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November 27 2010

Plug In, Turn On, Wipe Out: Dollhouse and the Fractured Psyche of Millennial Sci-Fi. Find out why the show "deserves more attention or analysis than anything from its creator's canon".

What a great article!!
The writer makes some interesting points, and he clearly has a VAST knowledge of Sci-Fi that I lack. Many of his references were entirely lost on me. I was also a little side-tracked by his lack of editing. (I will never understand writers of long, elaborate pieces who who fail to properly proof their writings.)
I was -- naturally -- a bit put off by his clear disdain for Buffy, and his slightly condescending tone throughout the piece. As I came to this part, I got testy:

"Like many a tramped-up superheroine in form-fitting spandex ... his female figures have always had a fairly fetishized aspect to them that made them less independent of the dominant male-power paradigms and more a subtle kind of embodiment of them. Buffy may have led the Scooby Gang, but she still managed to sleep her way through the majority of the show’s male characters, living and undead alike."

Maybe I'm crabby today and let myself get riled up, but it really bugged me! I would have loved to have gone into an equally elaborate and well-executed essay about why, but I am in theory writing a job application right now.
I will however say that Buffy slept with Angel, Parker, Riley and Spike. Four men in seven years. "Sleeping her way through" my ass. Combined with the author's repeated shots at Eliza Dushku and her acting skills, I find it odd that this author has the least bit interest in the word "feminism" other than to mumble it under his breath. (You are entitled to your opinion, about Eliza, naturally, but there's no need to repeatedly snark about it in a piece like this.)
I sort of see his point but couldn't get thru it, not familair enough with or interetsed in formal literary criticism and media studies to follow it.
You know, I'd actually argue the opposite. If you look at Whedon's past shows you can find pretty much all the same themes as what you get in Dollhouse. No, they aren't all clumped together and at the forefront of the narrative for the benefit of the snobbish sci-fi geeks thematic-subtlty impaired, but the ideas are still there, ripe to be picked up and explored by savvy viewers everywhere (it's actually one of the main reasons why I like Joss Whedon's works so much; he doesn't feel the need to hit his viewers on the head with SERIOUS IDEAS all the time - he just puts them out there like he does everything else and lets the viewer discern things on their own.)

to put it one way, I'd contend that the entire conceptual narrative that was Dollhouse could've taken place in the Firefly universe - and probably would've been a hell of a lot more compelling in the telling since Firefly had such a broad thematic base to it that it would've allowed for lots of other fun things to have been explored as well (imo one of Dollhouse's major weaknesses is that it was so caught up with the serious nature of itself that any elements falling outside of that like - I don't know - humor, positive personal interest stories, etc. simply didn't feel like they fit properly.)

[ edited by brinderwalt on 2010-11-27 19:08 ]
Heh, is it just me or is the author maybe deliberately stressing how broad his knowledge of sci-fi/western culture other than the 'Star Wars' movies is (only a couple of aspects of 'Dollhouse' evoked anything Lucas related in there, right) ? Maybe to head off similar criticisms to those levelled at his 'Firefly'/prequel trilogy comparison ? ;)

That said, to me it's a more interesting article, denser, more plausible in its contentions and even though it doesn't say much new (which i'm starting to think just isn't going to happen with 'Dollhouse' now) it says it quite well. That said, maybe that's just because I agree with more of his points in this one ;).

(still not all though e.g. the old chestnut about Eliza's range and so on but that ground was old when the show was on and i'm bored of walking it - folk that think it now won't be convinced otherwise so i'm just gonna agree to differ)

...even looking to be a masterful meta-commentary on the medium of television itself, and a fine blend of soft action-adventure and pure, hard sci-fi.

(this in particular struck a chord with me even if I question just how hard the sci-fi in DH is)
I will agree so far as to say that I think "Dollhouse" has been vastly under-appreciated, including by the fanbase (although not to the extent that this author imputes), and that I suspect in coming years it will be looked on whole as a greater critical achievement than it has been in the present.
I think this is a brilliant analysis, even if I disagree with the writer's assessment of Buffy (which is actually understandable, because I had the similar skeptical misgivings about the series, even though I found it very entertaining; it was only when I saw all the episodes in order did I get that there was a bigger theme throughout the series).

Minus the Fox interference, Dollhouse is possibly Joss's deepest, darkest, most brilliant work, and truly one of the best sci-fi series ever. It is sci-fi as commentary on society and (in)humanity, which is what sci-fi started out to be, and was used for by the most brilliant literary minds.
I knew this article was coming but I just can't get past the slagging of Joss' other shows to appreciate the positives about Dollhouse. It's interesting to me that a 26-year-old imposes morality more befitting someone from another generation on Buffy's sexuality: Buffy may have led the Scooby Gang, but she still managed to sleep her way through the majority of the show’s male characters, living and undead alike. What does that even mean, that a leader should be celibate? Does it really need to be pointed out (talk about not paying attention to what the show or Buffy were about) that Buffy was just a girl, who wanted to be in the stream of life, rather than at the fringes because of what she had to hide, her unwanted calling? And why shouldn't she have had sex? God, I am so sick of this disgusting double standard between men and women. Four men in seven seasons of shows and actually, if you compare her to women of that generation, she was pretty chaste.

And this, For a long while she seemed the weak-link of the show, mostly thanks to the limited range of Eliza Dushku, an actress who’s fine at Faith-style badass bitches, but not very good at conveying anything else, is so off. Eliza actually grew on me the longer the series went on, and she pulled off some incredibly subtle acting as Echo began to become her own person. The differences between her Spanish-speaking interpreter in Ghost and who she is in Omega, and then Meet Jane Doe in Season 2 are vast. I don't think a show can be good if the lead actor is weak and despite struggles with the network, I am amazed it was as good as it was - I enjoyed how uncomfortable the show made me at times.
I wanted to clarify that why I thought it was a great article for its interest in Dollhouse, I don't agree with alot of what it states.

Re: Eliza I have said this before but I think that sometimes there was an unfair expectation put on eliza that the other actors didn't have from some of the fans because of the popularity of Faith. just a thought.


[ edited by WheelsOfJoy on 2010-11-28 01:20 ]
I actually do follow the pomo parts of the argument, but I agree with none of it and no longer have the energy to take him to task- for, example, his failure to even mention prostitution and rape culture, both issues worthy of discussion and inescapable of consideration if coming at the show from an academic direction. The Eliza issue is a complete misdirection and has nothing to do with the show's writing.
I had HUGE problems with the last article this guy (Bob) wrote about Firefly, and this one strikes the same nerve. Praise blended with disdain and superiority. I get the strong feeling that he uses his vast rhetorical abilities to say basically nothing...or, if there is something there, it's buried so deep in his long-winded speech it's hard to access.

I even had a 3-day comment war with him, which he was more than happy to entertain (which I take as a sign that he may be looking for argument more than making an independent point).

And again, there is Whedon-condescension galore, and the incessant references to the Star Wars prequels. Ugh. I think I might have to metaphorically punch this guy in real life.
Oh I dunno, I think this time they were only semi-incessant (at the very worst). Two or three maybe ? Given the huge number of other references he makes that's as near as dammit none.
In my fine tradition of correcting fictional grammar: he spelled "thoughtpocalypse" wrong.

Yeah, the author's got a few phrases in there that will definitely set people's backs up. While his "van Helsing in a sports bra" critique of Buffy has some real validity (although it's hardly original), no, Buffy is emphatically not a slut. Especially considering that the list of male heroes that she doesn't sleep with (Xander, Giles, Oz, Wood, and Andrew) is actually longer the list of the ones she does. It's true, though, that she's the "ultimate character" in quite specific ways: she can both fight and f***, she's gorgeous and smart, incredibly strong and comfortably sexual, yet needing the emotional support of friends and lovers. She's certainly my dream girl--no accident that all my partners since college have been gorgeous, brilliant, and trained fighters. She's also the kind of character I'd write, if I set out to write a strong female character.

But I'm a guy. So's Joss. And I have a nagging feeling that if Buffy had been created by Joss's twin sister, it would have had all the same characters and it would have been called "Willow." Or "Tara."

There are a lot of ways for women to be strong. Joss was aware of this, but he put hot-warrior Buffy in the lead, not brainy Willow or caring Tara. Echo at least can be a nurse and a midwife and (probably) a shrink if she a mind to; she can be strong in any way she wants.
@ManEnoughToAdmitIt:

I cannot get over how well your screenname fits you right now. Kudos: as much as I love Buffy, I wish that what you say about her was said more often.
I agree with pretty much everything Carnelionne and Tonya J said.

Also, pretentious and far too wordy.
There were some well thought out points in this, but if we're gonna go all English major on it, the topic was dystopia and utopia, and then we get sidetracked by Whedon critique and female representation comparisons. And yes, I was mentally editing the dang thing. Kudos to @ManEnoughToAdmitIt, you phrased it perfectly. As a woman, sometimes Dollhouse made me squirm; I believe that was intentional. What I have to wonder about is how much of the skimpy costumes and sex assignments were part of the original idea and how much was FOX's idea of eyeballs on show?
From previous interviews I think there may have been even more sex assignments (or more made of the ones we saw) if not for Fox. Joss talks about to some extent wanting it to be a "celebration of perversion" as something that's part of our uniqueness as individuals in a recent interview for instance. How it would've been implemented though is anyone's guess (he also says in that same interview that the show as is came across as creepy at times and that that was unintentional - as someone who also squirmed and also felt that was intentional I wondered in the thread for that link which parts he meant).

And yeah, the essay certainly lost its original focus as it went on (either that or it broadened the definition of "millennial sci-fi" so much as to render it basically meaningless).
That's the second essay today that I've read about feminism written by a man. Not impressed.

And if he hadn't lost me in the essay, he did in his comment about Spike later down the page.
I skimmed through the comments on that site, and I have to say, the writer is clearly an ass - going as far as calling someone out on spell check for one word misspelled, while they themselves should have used spell check. Not impressed. But then again, I'm hardly ever impressed with blogs like this anyway.
XKCD on "over-enthusiasm" in correcting other people's mistakes ;).

(I almost never read the comments on stuff linked here, it doesn't usually end well. That said, whether the guy's an ass or not is irrelevant to the points he's making)
That'll teach me to have a life outside this place. We don't go for name calling here of writers of articles here. I don't particularly enjoy deleting comments but I will do so if people insist on playing the man and not the ball.
Well, you can't help the first stories that imprint themselves on your psyche. Maybe time will influence his perspective. His interest has obviously moved at least a little beyond that "first" trilogy-thing-that-shall-not-be-named. It did scream a bit of "I know a lot." Heh. Did he forget any major shout outs? (rhetorical question) He does manage to see everything through that "Star Wars" lens though, doesn't he:

"Particularly striking is that repeated, almost iconographic high-ceiling shot of the Dolls sleeping in their coffin-like pods, built into the floor in a flower-design that evokes both an inverted pentagram (in the opening credits sequence) and the operating bed from Revenge of the Sith where a charred Anakin Skywalker is transformed into the robotic Darth Vader."

Now for me, the five pod shot always evokes of Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man, which I think is rather appropriate, but probably has to do with my art major lens.

And I guess he can't help it if he doesn't like Jossian dialog. He mentioned that a few times in the last essay too. Tastes definitely vary. I think he's nuts, but there you go. ;)

The worst of the essay for me was probably the: "Buffy may have led the Scooby Gang, but she still managed to sleep her way through the majority of the show’s male characters, living and undead alike." I'm not really sure why Buffy should be denigrated for being a sexual being, i.e. human. It all made complete sense in the context of her character and her life as she was then experiencing it. Actually... I take that back. I find the whole paragraph that quote came from sort of icky and suspect. I guess I'm not a fan of reductionism. I find it too dismissive and trivializing when applied to human beings--fictional human beings in this case, but definitely ones that attained enough complexity to have earned more weighty consideration.

But now for the really important question this essay evoked: Does the Joss-cult have an official Kool-aid flavor? I was always partial to black Cherry if we're voting.
So... didn't like it then?

Since this is article #2 from him, I'll just say that he meanders a bit for my taste. On this one, I just really don't get the point he's trying to make at all. It's too buried in references and random points.

That said, I'm not going to complain about him establishing ethos through references, since I happened to be reading the complaints about his former article. It seems silly to me that he should both be flogged for appearing to only watch Star Wars in one article and then taken behind the woodshed again for using references to obscure fictions. Apparently, his Sci Fi cred needed to be proved. I'm not sure why personally, but based on the last article's response, it did.

What I find interesting is he did miss the rather subversive, almost dystopian reversal of Angel S4. One, in which it has been argued that it is the need for freedom that created a worse world. Perhaps people would not have been free, but they would have been happier and on the whole more safe. It is the hero's choice that destroys it, but we are not (as an audience) given the out of seeing that the choice is "better."

[ edited by azzers on 2010-11-29 01:44 ]
I just can't tell why he feels the need to insult Buffy, Angel and Firefly in this article, especially when he makes it clear that he's never seen all of Buffy or chronologically. It put me off of his article, which might have been good.
There was nothing feminist about this post. "Mankind" was the first tip-off and then "Van Helsing in a sports bra." Changing gender changes the story.

Yesterday, I watched some of Season 2 with a friend -- a professor I had for advanced feminist theory. There are so many layers to DH.
As a rule on these kind of articles I read the Whedonesque comments and use them to decide whether it's worth reading the article. That was an especially good decision in this case because @ManEnoughToAdmitIt's post was, in two and a half paragraphs, the most insightful critique of Buffy that I've ever read, I think.


It's true, though, that she's the "ultimate character" in quite specific ways: she can both fight and f***, she's gorgeous and smart, incredibly strong and comfortably sexual, yet needing the emotional support of friends and lovers. She's certainly my dream girl--no accident that all my partners since college have been gorgeous, brilliant, and trained fighters. She's also the kind of character I'd write, if I set out to write a strong female character.

But I'm a guy. So's Joss. And I have a nagging feeling that if Buffy had been created by Joss's twin sister, it would have had all the same characters and it would have been called "Willow." Or "Tara."

There are a lot of ways for women to be strong. Joss was aware of this, but he put hot-warrior Buffy in the lead, not brainy Willow or caring Tara.


I've always had a slight unease with Buffy being the exemplar of Joss's "strong female characters" reputation, and I think this gets to the heart of why. But Joss does write strong female characters. It's just that his strong female characters are Willow and Tara as well as Buffy, Kaylee and Inara as well as River and Zoe, Cordelia and Fred as well as Illyria and Gwen.

That's an aspect of his work which, in my opinion, could stand to get emphasized more.
BreathesStory: Does the Joss-cult have an official Kool-aid flavor? I was always partial to black Cherry if we're voting.

This is an extremely good question, BreathesStory - I can't believe we haven't discussed this before.

While flavors have come and gone over the years (I had no idea Kool-Aid was so old, did you?) it looks like black cherry is still available, and I was always fond of it too...

But now that I think of it - to really drink the Kool-Aid properly, we prolly have to wait for Jossir to pick the flavor for us. ; >

Now, re: this article - it was mostly a big feh! for me, but I agree with this about Dollhouse:

"...nowhere has that stark contrast between idyllic fantasy and bleak reality been more provocatively put to the screen, small or otherwise, than in Dollhouse..."

even though I'd have to count myself among "the most die-hard fans of previous shows like Buffy or Firefly." ; > The contrast between the bright shiny (and innocent-sounding) presentations of "pick your fantasy scenario and everybody wins" and the sordid awfulness of the human toll it took to provide them was startling and edifying.

I also think Dollhouse contains meta-commentary on a number of aspects of humanity and contemporary culture, including TV, performance, the objectification of humans by other humans, and more, could my weak brain but think of it now. I think - or hope, anyway - that folks will come to value and understand Dollhouse more deeply a few years from now...

What most people have said about wondersinthedark's writing above stands for me, so I won't rehash, but I am a little tired of folks referring to Joss' dialogue as "camp". While I myself enjoy a good camp-binge now and then (oh, and meantersay elsewhere, Saje thanks for that link to the Polari glossary - can't believe I'd never heard of it), and while there is a lot of variation in how people define it, Buffy prolly ain't it.

Well, not by my definition, anyway.

*sips a tall refreshing frosty glass of Kool-Aid*

Oh, yeah, and also What sab39 Said™.
After engaging in deep research using a complex technique known as (apologies for the jargon) "googling" I humbly submit (really, i'm kowtowing and all sorts) "Golden Nectar" as our official flavour. Or Man-o-mangoberry. Or whatever Josshizownself says, natch ("differently useful" factoid that I learned from t'innertubes: Jim Jones actually didn't use Kool-aid anyway, the thing we drink as a fandom should be Flavor Aid).

What Google can't tell me is what it actually tastes like though, is it just powdered squash basically ? Or is it closer to something like a non-fizzy Lucozade (which I dislike quite intensely) ?

(and no probs of course QG - though I was worried I might be teaching you to suck eggs ;) - those niche culture slangs are fascinating. First came across it, as that link mentions, listening to 'Round the Horne' - dunno if that'll work outside the UK BTW)
I never came to care for DH or any of it characters, but having said that, I think it is a very rich text in terms of analyizing it from a critlit perspective. So I have to strongly agree with quotergal about the metacommentary aspect of the show- by the way, both good and more troubling in terms of the issues one might discuss- and how time might prove it more worthy of reconsideration. To that end, what with the cost of the 1st season so low right now, I bought it to rewatch it with a more critical eye, and a less "invested" eye, my normal way of viewing.

Lime, by the way, thanks. Kool Aid, that is.
Ok I spent most of that essay being annoyed about the word 'segwayed'. Am I just an idiot or British or should that not be 'segued'?

I actually thought it was a pretty good essay if a little pretentious. Agree that the remark about Buffy's sex-life was stupid. Tt came at the end of an interesting section though on how Whedon's shows aren't that feminist and I think this is an interesting topic.

The article kind of fails to do this well though, it holds Ripley and Sarah Connor up as models of female empowerment because they're cut off from a patriarchy-infused idea of what women should be like whereas Buffy retains a feminine side. Whether you agree with radical feminist critiques of women's gender roles or not, the thing that the author appears to miss is that Ripley and Connor are no longer part of society, they have given up a 'normal' life to become soldiers. Buffy makes a huge effort to cling on to a 'normal' life because she recognises that being a person engaged in society (e.g. being part of a community, loving relationships, family responsibilities) makes you a stronger, more 'empowered' person.

You can't be part of society without taking on some trappings of patriarchy, the two are inseparable, hence Buffy's femininity. Believe me the more radically feminist I become the less I feel like I am a part of mainstream society. Thankfully I have a good radical community full of anarchists and feminists to hang out with but without that I would totally become a vengeful loner and have no self-esteem. I don't really see this kind of thing (i.e. cheerleader discovers feminism, rejects men, lives in commune, turns vegan, grows armpit and leg hair and cuts off head hair, etc) happening on a tv show and it definitely wouldn't work on Buffy conceptually or character-wise. So to lay at Joss' feet the responsibility for creating a well-rounded main character who has friends, attends school, has a loving family, gets involved in romantic relationships, etc. etc. and then marry this concept with a character who rejects and refutes sexism in society by casting off femininity is a pretty tall order.
I always just assumed that aspect of Buffy was a deliberate response to (characters like) Sarah Connor and Ripley ? I.e. the idea that you can be a strong, independent woman and still care which shade of lipstick you wear compared to both the other characters who, as you say digupherbones, basically gave up their femininity completely, even the bits that weren't imposed upon them from without (Sarah Connor pretty much gives up her humanity full stop, becoming a machine to fight the machines - T2 is partly about her journey to regain some sort of balance in her life - and with Ripley 'Aliens' shows her reasserting her femaleness by adopting the role of mother to Newt).
Which is later subverted, saje, when Ripley literally becomes the mother of an alien (as well as a mother to herself).
Good points about Dollhouse but IMO missing the point on Buffy. And I didn't even read the article! That's what the comments here are for. Actually I am going to read it later, for this:

an interesting section though on how Whedon's shows aren't that feminist and I think this is an interesting topic.

It's something I've thought about a bit as regards Buffy - whether it's a feminist show simply because it has a female protagonist who can kick ass, and what a "strong female character" even means (the way it gets used I often think it just means "well-developed" but how the show deals with strength and female strength is interesting and I don't know if I'd necessarily call it feminist, but I'd be really interested to read something intelligently questioning that assumption). Somewhere on another thread (I am no Quotergal alas and can't remember where) we talked about the whole "strong female character" vs. "baby woman" type in Joss' shows - if she'd had a few more seasons I think Zoe might have been the ultimate "feminist" heroine - a grown woman with utter confidence in her abilities, loves, desires, etc, complex and powerful and all that good stuff. But then a lot of the point of Buffy was that these are kids trying to figure out who they are and what they want (still cookie dough!) while saving the world, and it seems fitting that Buffy was never a "perfect" model of feminism or of anything but rather a sympathetic and complicated character struggling to figure herself out.

As for Buffy's femininity, that was something I liked so much about the character, that she was both the kick-ass demon fighter and the girly cheerleader. Her struggle to balance those two aspects of herself was one of the highlights of the show for me, often hilarious, often very moving.

I know so many people who prefer the other characters to Buffy herself, but while I loved the others too, it has always been all about Buffy for me.
digupherbones, I thought this was interesting:

"You can't be part of society without taking on some trappings of patriarchy, the two are inseparable, hence Buffy's femininity."

Are you saying that femininity exists solely as a construct of patriarchy and that it isn't a separate distinct um, entity(?) sensibility(?) on it's own? 'Cause if so, I'm gonna have to think about that one.

(Hmm, I just realized that my question and your answer rests solely on how one defines "femininity." Are we talking cultural trappings/manifestations/roles or something more inherent in a human being with the XX chromosomes? For me I always think of it as the latter, despite the culture at times trying to draw a box around it of a varying degrees of permeability.)

******

In other, more grave matters...

RE: KOOL-AID...Golden Nectar would indeed nicely complement the ambrosia at snack time. Unfortunately it was discontinued in 1957. I guess the Olympians were too busy with something else to keep up the distribution chain? After perusing the list all the other interesting (to me) candidates also turn out to be discontinued including Sharkleberry Fin--which just sounds neat.

"What does it taste like?" Um, like really sweet flavored water depending on how you make it. Think... "fruit flavored candy" but in a liquid form. I kind of find it disgusting now, but it was a mainstay of American child hoods for years. For some reason, parents seem to think it was healthier than soda pop. They attempted to co-opt the youth of America at an early age. (I think that last ad might have been made by some of those people that took the Acid Test. (I'm referring to Tom Wolfe's book, Electic Kool-aid Acid Test where he documents driving around in a painted bus and giving LSD spiked Kool-aid to people--before it was an illegal substance.) Plus, saying Kool-aid is just well, cooler than saying flavor-aid. It rolls trippingly off the tongue.

Weird pseudo interesting factoid: Marvel apparently made a short series of Kool-aid comics in the eighties.

RE: CAMP... No, Buffy probably doesn't fit the definition, not Susan Sontag's anyways. It sounds like it more style over substance whereas I always think that Joss's stylizations serve his substance. Which is the best IMO.

And thanks for the link QuoterGal. I use to know this much: "X" about Susan Sontag and now thanks to falling down the Google hole I now know this much: "XXX". ;-) I also got to read a good essay and a new cool link to my Language Link Bookmarks.

RE: POLARI... Yeah, I enjoyed that too. Another bookmark. ;-) The "Round the Horne" link did play and what I could catch was pretty funny. Some challenging vocab combined with my APD probably made me miss more than I would have liked. Radio is not my best medium.
I think it's interesting that characters such as Ripley and Sarah Connor gave up much of their femininity in order to become more empowered. This implies (subtextually at least) that masculinity is inherently better or more desirable than femininity. This is something I think is worth looking at in determining which of these feminist icons are truly feminist. The fact that Buffy is still feminine and seems more like a person you'd actually have the chance of meeting in the real world (apart from the superpowers) is interesting to note. I think what makes Buffy a feminist icon is not just that she is strong physically, but that she has many other attributes that we associate with "strong" characters - perserverance, determination, intelligence, humor, heroism, etc.
Oh, and I had as much of a problem with the description of Buffy as "Van Helsing in a sports bra" as I did with the comment suggesting that Buffy slept through the roster of the male characters.

Equally offensive and reductive imo.
"What does it taste like?" Um, like really sweet flavored water depending on how you make it.

Cheers BreathesStory. It does sound like what we call squash over here except in powder form (which we also have but not as much). And you're not kidding it depends how you make it - one of those recipes involved adding two cups of sugar to a gallon of water ! Diabetes much ?

(course as a kid you'd love it - when I was growing up a treat for us when we'd been good was something called a "butter and sugar ball". The clue's in the name but basically you get a teaspoon, scoop out a big chunk of butter, dip the whole lot in the sugar bowl and enjoy. Loved 'em then, now the idea makes me slightly queasy)

RE: KOOL-AID...Golden Nectar would indeed nicely complement the ambrosia at snack time. Unfortunately it was discontinued in 1957.

Which just goes to show what i've long thought - the 50s are one of the stupider decades. Giant ants are about the only thing they did right back then.

This implies (subtextually at least) that masculinity is inherently better or more desirable than femininity.

I think it implies that femininity is weaker or less appropriate at least, certainly in combat. Depends on how you define feminine qualities of course but that's surely true for some definitions.

Are you saying that femininity exists solely as a construct of patriarchy and that it isn't a separate distinct um, entity(?) sensibility(?) on it's own? 'Cause if so, I'm gonna have to think about that one.

It's a mixture surely ? Femaleness and maleness are inherent, based on biology (though even then you have debatable cases I suppose, XXYs, XYYs etc.) whereas femininity and masculinity are partly biological and partly cultural constructs (i.e. a set of behaviours and beliefs some of which are learned and not necessarily even desirable to the individual - when someone says "Be a man" or whatever they're not saying "Acquire a Y chromosome" ;).

And thanks for the links BTW, i'll take a look when I get the chance (Flash issues on this box at the moment).

[ edited by Saje on 2010-11-30 00:30 ]
Holy crap butter and sugar balls sound revolting!!

I did finally read the article. Well, no, that's a lie, I skimmed most of it and as a result the sweet potato fries were burnt and I'm not sure it was worth it. I was looking for and interested in this:

While imbued with healthy amounts of genuine empowerment, they’re characters who remain burdened with the wet-dream fantasies of their male creator, farther from the mother-hen soldiers of Ellen Ripley and Sarah Conner, and closer to how Wonder Woman began, as penned by bondage-enthusiast Dr. William Moulton Marston.


It does imply that Ripley and Sarah Conner are somehow worthier heroines, which I disagree with, but I kind of do agree with the rest. It doesn't make me love Buffy less, but it's something I've thought about, anyway.

The whole femininity / masculinity construct or inherent biological whatsit stuff is always interesting, and of course it's some kind of a mix and impossible to nail down anyway, but I've been fascinated, now that I'm mother to a little boy, watching him go from baby blob to such a boy kind of boy. I mean, his first three words were car, truck, and van. It's changed my own view of these things somewhat. I like Buffy's femininity, but sometimes I felt like ... I don't know, the show didn't have a lot of "positive" portrayals of other kinds of women? When we see alternate-Buffy in the Wish, she's quite butch, because she's a sad angry loner. Happy Buffy is pretty lipstick-wearing Buffy. Maggie Walsh starts out smart and tough and unfeminine, but then it turns out she's a sociopath so not exactly the role model she started out as. Willow and Tara may be gay but they are long-hair and dresses gay. (Not knocking it, I like long hair and dresses too, but the show is pretty unvarying in that regard). The same could be said about Angel. I think Zoe on Firefly transcends it all (she is never "cute"), but other than that, there are definitely quibbles to be made if one likes making quibbles with the kinds of femaleness that are portrayed as positive in Joss' shows.

I think it's interesting that characters such as Ripley and Sarah Connor gave up much of their femininity in order to become more empowered. This implies (subtextually at least) that masculinity is inherently better or more desirable than femininity.


I think that's very much something the show was trying to address and something I really enjoyed. Most explicit in S4 with the Initiative, maybe.

It makes me sad thinking about Dollhouse though. Firefly breaks my heart but what there is just seems so perfect to me. Dollhouse feels like a missed chance sometimes. It was so great at times, and so awful other times, and never quite found it's footing or had time to get where it was going. Sniffle.
Holy crap butter and sugar balls sound revolting!!

I won't go into the details of a "sugar sandwich" then ;).

...but I've been fascinated, now that I'm mother to a little boy, watching him go from baby blob to such a boy kind of boy.

I think there's definitely more inherent than some people like to think but it's really hard to know because one thing I am sure of (despite not having any) is that we influence our kids in a huge number of ways that we don't even realise, from tones of voice to facial expressions to TV shows we sit them in front of, to how long and how often we hold them etc. There're ways to find out of course but as soon as you try it some woolly-headed liberal comes out of the woodwork with all this stuff about how it's wrong to experiment on children - don't they realise i'm mildly curious about it and therefore require answers ?? ;-)

Read a book a while back called 'The Male Brain' which was OK, interesting if very pop-y and a bit slight (there's a 'The Female Brain' too which I may check out when I get the chance) and in there the author talked about how, more or less as soon as kids are mobile enough to be choosing their own toys, boys will gravitate towards more traditionally male toys and girls will go the other way. In one example a boy - around 2½ years old IIRC - was given a car but in pink and rejected it because it was "a girl toy". Boys are also more active themselves and more interested in toys that move or can be moved and that seems to stay with us, the author even suggested that if boys were allowed to move around more in school lessons rather than being punished for "fidgeting" then they might learn more easily. Again though, it's nigh impossible to tell how much of that's learned and how much innate)


ETA: Another interesting (and slightly sad) thing from the book, boys are by some measures actually more emotional than girls when very young but are gradually socialised to cultivate a "poker face" and see displays of many emotions to be signs of weakness. What a world.

[ edited by Saje on 2010-11-30 16:06 ]
Saje, I'd read Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine before bothering with The Female Brain because she has little good to say about Louann Brizendine (et al).

And, furthermore, she does discuss just how much we may influence children "in a huge number of ways that we don't even realise, from tones of voice", etc.

It was a most enjoyable and sometimes jaw-droppingly enlightening read.
Ah cheers moley75, may well do that then, I quite enjoyed her 'A Mind of its Own'. To be honest, even as a non-neuroscientist while reading 'The Male Brain' the author would say "something something ... which shows that this is inherent" and i'd be thinking "Err, not really though" (as in my example above - two and a half is plenty old enough that social factors matter).

That said, i've never read anything on this topic that wasn't biased (in one direction or the other), it's science itself but is so intimately entwined in gender politics that straight facts are hard to come by (and then there're the restrictions on how much you can actually control variables anyway cos of that pesky human rights thing ;). If Cordelia Fine manages it i'll be pleasantly surprised (but i'm not holding my breath).

[ edited by Saje on 2010-11-30 19:55 ]
it's really hard to know because one thing I am sure of (despite not having any) is that we influence our kids in a huge number of ways that we don't even realise, from tones of voice to facial expressions to TV shows we sit them in front of, to how long and how often we hold them etc.

That's definitely true, and I agree that in the case of a 2.5 year old rejecting a "girl toy" he's old enough to have "learned" that, either from parents or from other boys. At 16 months, I already feel like my son is past the age where it would be possible to disentangle the innate from the "socialized" - but when he was barely a year old and I was pointing out animals in books and so on thinking to myself, "kids like animals!", and he started hollering TRUCK, I did think, OK I have absolutely no interest in trucks so this is coming from where? And the fact that he was able to distinguish (and name) cars trucks vans etc. (before bothering to say mommy! I was way down the list of words that seemed important / useful to him) just blew my mind. Of course I know little girls who are interested in cars and trucks too, it was just such a surprising cliche, when he crossed over from baby to toddler and was all about BIG TRUCKS and balls and running around with sticks. Now, of course, we roll with his "interests" and no doubt reinforce them - my enthusiasm upon seeing a firetruck would amaze you. Point being, it has challenged my own leanings towards the whole "gender as a cultural construct" thing quite a bit. Then again, we're having another boy this spring so if he's all about barbies or something I'll be challenged right back again.

The books sound interesting, anyway, though my library list is long and suffering from severe neglect. I find the whole subject so interesting but I guess even though I do believe there are plenty of "innate" male / female qualities (besides the physical), I think it can often be more damaging than useful to try and categorize them, since obviously that ends up excluding or marginalizing (without malice, but still) so many individuals who straddle those lines in a variety of ways, and I wonder if it ends up contributing (maybe) to a kind of social pressure. Or at least supporting a kind of social pressure. Maybe. I don't know.
I will now attempt to cobble together some brain cells... ahem

Well, my original comment was in response to digupherbones' statement, so it's a little weird to talk about something I never received any clarification on from her but... I'll play anyways. : )

I thought digupherbones was saying that Buffy's femininity existed only in response to the patriarchal culture, that it was in fact created by the culture she lived in. (Sorry if I got it wrong.) I'm not sure I agree with that, but it will probably take some days of pondering and turning over in my mind various observations, experiences, and thoughts I've had over the years to come to any quasi-conclusion. (That's me covering my ass, BTW. ;) )

That said, I think defining masculinity and femininity as sensibilities is the first step. I'd like to follow that by saying that I think of them as tendencies existing on a spectrum. There are a whole passel of behaviors, skills, and leanings that seem to exist in rough alignment with one or the other gender and can't be written off as possibly nurture based. I'd include in this category things like Saje's mention and Catherine's confirmation ; ) of males gravitating towards movement. (I know there's some other stuff, but I'd need more sleep to remember them.)

******

Heh, I took a break from trying to excavate and order my thoughts (probably a lost cause) and went off googling where I found this article from Psychology Today, which lead to me reading their articles and blogs about intelligence and gender. Plus, I also read creepy stuff about why men murder their wives and how apparently a man's midlife crisis is his aging wife's fault and also interesting stuff like discovering that they have a regular Superhero Blog There was a slight nod to Buffy in this entry about mental toughness that I thought was quite good.

After coming back from googleland... I keep wondering: What does it mean to be male or female? And from my perspective, "What is this femininity thing people speak of?" I read all those articles and found myself constantly trying to place myself on the sliding spectrum of male←→female according to various behaviors and wondering things like: Is there's any significance to me listing "male" first in this discussion? It's a bit of: "Well, I do that...but I also do that" sort of thing. For instance: I think I tend to avoid eye-contact during conversations and tend to swallow my anger (female-ish), but on the other hand I feel very comfortable with silence and can never do small-talk-bonding-stuff well (apparently more male-ish traits).

Saje, when you said that Ripley and Sarah Conner gave up their femininity/humanity, my first thought was: "Really? But they are women who feel closer to my experience of being a woman and I never feel unfeminine." (Whatever that means.) I'm not saying that I would, or could, or even would want to go all badass. That's not the part of their characters that I responded to. (Fun though.) I liked that they measured their situations, that they asked for expert advice, that they thought about other people (Okay, SC, not so much. ;) ), that they made decisions and acted. Maybe these are all things that are commonly seen as being of the realms of men, but I never saw them as rejecting their femininity, unlike Pvt. Vasquez. I saw them as busy with the problem before them. Does being faced with a life or death problem involving solutions of violence automatically take away a woman's femininity? Is it something that can be shed like skin?

I have been wondering a lot about the meaning of being a woman in our culture as I get older, especially as I have no children. You have no idea how much "female bonding" is organized around the mother identity. (Or maybe you do. ;) ) Was Ripley really only able to reassert/declare her femaleness by mothering Newt? I disagree. I always thought she behaved as a female, even in her culturally derived behaviors, i.e. her reticence to assert her contrasting opinion to the "in charge" men. Ripley is someone who is always holding herself back, until she is pushed into it by her feelings of connection to other human beings. Women often restrain themselves in order to get along, not rock the boat. (Anger was mentioned in one of those Psychology Today articles as being perceived as unfeminine.) I think one could also argue that even Sarah Conner is motivated by her relationship to humanity even if she is temporarily disengaged from specific individuals. (Relationships are often mentioned as being one of the defining concerns for women.)

So what makes Ripley and Sarah Conner "unfeminine" and Buffy "feminine?" (Here comes the kind of half-serious, sort of rhetorical questions.) Does it really come down to clothes and the biological possibility of reproduction? It can't just be the military thing, can it? Because there are plenty of women in the military. Are weapons really the old saw of a phallic substitute/extension or are they emblematic of power and if so... What? Women don't get to have power? ; )

Off the cuff musing: Would Ripley's person feel different if she had been battling a male alien? (Mother vs. "Mother")

(God, did this get long for not saying much of anything. Not sure that the brain cells really managed to work today.)
Is avoiding eye contact in conversation considered a "female" trait? I would have guessed the opposite, but that just shows what I know.

So what makes Ripley and Sarah Conner "unfeminine" and Buffy "feminine?" (Here comes the kind of half-serious, sort of rhetorical questions.) Does it really come down to clothes and the biological possibility of reproduction? It can't just be the military thing, can it? Because there are plenty of women in the military. Are weapons really the old saw of a phallic substitute/extension or are they emblematic of power and if so... What? Women don't get to have power? ; )


I'm with you on most of what you say about Ripley and Sarah Conner, but in the context of this discussion I'd say I'm using "feminine" in a pretty superficial way, to refer to, yes, clothes, and also a kind of softness and vulnerability. The biological side doesn't make one feminine or masculine, at least as I'm using those words - it makes us male or female. It's not "just" the military thing, but the military does indeed represent a kind of "masculine" aesthetic that women can also embrace. The point, I think, of the words masculine or feminine is that they don't mean male or female. They refer to cliched sets of behaviors or to appearances that are stereotyped as typically male or female, so that a man might be called feminine or a woman masculine depending on behavior and appearance. It's silly of course, in so many ways, but sometimes those words are the easiest words.

So yeah, I think that Ripley and Sarah Conner (and hey, let's throw Starbuck in there too because I loves me some Starbuck!) are wonderful examples of powerful women who indeed have their softer side but the way in which they are powerful is according to the "masculine" model. Muscular, sort of "butch" I guess, tough, hardass, whatever. Buffy is a different kind of model I think. She's strong, obviously, but doesn't look strong. She looks almost fragile. She goes slaying in cute girly outfits. She is emotional, vulnerable, empathetic, deeply involved with her loves and friendships and family. I''m not sure I've seen that kind of heroine anywhere else and "feminine" feels like the right word, I guess, even if it's a stupid word in some ways. But I do see a real and striking distinction between the Ripley / Sarah Conner model and the Buffy model. It's something I liked a lot about Buffy (and about Princess Leia but that's a whole other thing). That she didn't follow the masculine model of power at all, but had her own very feminine kind of power thing going on. I think S4 really delves into that, showing her with the Initiative. Starbuck blended right in with a bunch of military dudes. All the women on that show did, in fact, and it was really cool, the genderlessness of their military. But Buffy doesn't fit at all with a bunch of military dudes. "I slay in this halter all the time."

So it's not that power or danger force a woman to shed her femininity, so much as filmmakers haven't been sure how to portray female power as any different than male power, and so they've given us women acting out the masculine tropes. Which is cool. But Buffy is, IMHO, cooler ;).
What catherine said ;).

The point, I think, of the words masculine or feminine is that they don't mean male or female.

And this especially. Maleness and femaleness exist outside of how others see us, masculinity and femininity are at least partly social constructs. My genes don't tell me not to wear dresses or makeup or which urinal to choose when I walk into the gent's toilet or the "rules" for when I get there or the other "rules" about eye contact (my experience is similar to catherine's BTW - eye contact often isn't value neutral for men, it's tied up with challenges and pecking orders and all that bullshit, i've watched a lot of male-male conversations where you might almost think they were talking to someone else because they were barely looking at each other) or about what it's considered acceptable to say about another man and what would be over the "gay line" and so on. People recognise the difference so readily that we even have special words for a male that isn't masculine like 'effeminate' or 'cissy' ('butch', 'tom-boy' etc. are some female/feminine equivalents).

Re: Ripley/Connor... By 'Aliens' Ripley's isolated herself from the world, relationships are unimportant to her as are appearances or being seen to be attractive (as a woman), she's very self-contained, very direct in her speech, happy (even keen) to challenge what others say, not particularly diplomatic, clearly physically capable (and adept with machines, including weapons) she's also somewhat self-centred and callous at times (until she allows Newt in emotionally and also develops a relationship with Hicks based on mutual respect). Rightly or wrongly, most of these are associated with masculinity. For Sarah Connor you can include all of those and add that she physically turns herself into an almost literal lean, mean, killin' machine (surely BreathesStory you don't look at her physique in T2 and think "Wow, that's the feminine ideal" ?) - there's no softness to her and she's swapped motherly love for an obsessive desire to keep John safe (or rather, the one's mutated into the other).

(obviously whether all these things should be associated with masculinity/femininity is very much open to question, i'm trying to describe what is the case in my experience, not what ought to be)
Catherine, I agree completely that feminine and masculine are social constructs that we deem characteristics generally thought to be associated with one gender or the other. I also agree with Saje (or you know, WSS) that these are often difficult to define.

All that being said though, I wanted to agree with your inclusion of Princess Leia as a strong, powerful female character that would still be considered by most to be quite feminine. Leia is a bad-ass, but probably couldn't kick your ass (she's so tiny). Veronica Mars is probably another example of this type of hero (I really don't like the term heroine).

I don't have a problem with the Ripleys and Sarah Connors (actually quite like them); however, I believe that these other types of female heroes are important for young girls to be exposed to as well. They demonstrate that one doesn't have to be like a boy to be admirable.

[ edited by JossIzBoss on 2010-12-01 18:37 ]
O-kay. *slumps*

I know. I know. Catherine and Saje, you are most... probably right. (That's me holding onto my tiny straw.) It's just a personal thing. As much as I like Buffy and agree with her broadening the idea of female power, it is also a little unsettling to have her held up as the example of what it means to be feminine. Fragile, small and apparently "cute" = feminine is depressing to hear. (5'8"/172 cm and size US 12/EU 44 feet) Not that I don't understand that we're talking about the distilled idea of feminine, the extreme end, on the spectrum. (It's missing the pink, ribbons, and ruffles though. ;-) ) I also understand that to break stereotypes, extremes are often useful.

So about that list and Ripley in Aliens...

*relationships are unimportant to her ...(Not sure I agree with that. I'd say she's alone. Everyone she knows died. The world has moved on without her. She struck me more as depressed and just trying to get through to the next day.)
*as are appearances or being seen to be attractive (as a woman)... (Maybe. I always wrote off her appearance to: scarcity in space, a lack of funds, and depression.)
*she's very self-contained... (Once again, I'd say in Aliens she's alone. She's thrown in with a close-knit group culture that she's not a part of initially. Not until they go through "shit" together and she proves herself worthy of their trust.)
*very direct in her speech... ( Directness is masculine? I thought it was just impatience with obtuseness, circumlocution, and stupidity.)
*happy (even keen) to challenge what others say... (But not without cause. She shouldn't just keep her mouth shut, right?)
*not particularly diplomatic... (So tactlessness is unfeminine? I thought it was just gauche.)
*clearly physically capable (and adept with machines, including weapons) (This one I understand, culturally speaking, but I guess I've known too many women who like cars, did black smithing, were in the army, went to a gym etc. for my brain to automatically equate: physically capable/machines/weapons=masculine. Even if they are a smaller percentage of the female population. I guess it just comes down to life experiences.)
*she's also somewhat self-centered and callous at times (until she allows Newt in emotionally and also develops a relationship with Hicks based on mutual respect)....(see above)

And no, I didn't think Sarah Conner's physique was the feminine ideal. Her physique is too hard for most women to maintain naturally through moderate means. (I tend to take my cues from nature.) I just thought it was kinda cool. I also thought that it was the logical thing for a woman that's scared out of her mind for the human race and her son, to do whatever she thought would help them all survive.

"Rightly or wrongly, most of these are associated with masculinity."... (Well, crap. That's very disappointing to hear and have spelled out. I never personally thought of them that way.)

"She (Buffy) is emotional, vulnerable, empathetic, deeply involved with her loves and friendships and family."... (See, I didn't think that stuff was missing from Ripley and SC--except maybe the deeply involved bit, which I still think was logical due to the circumstances. I found them both emotional and vulnerable and empathic. I just thought they were trying to hold it back/stuff it down. Maybe what I thought I saw on the screen wasn't really there? I should probably give 'em a re-watch then, huh? :-) )

I guess it's just me then. Where everyone else seems to see women "butching up," I see a natural expression and participation of the woman in her life as she is currently experiencing it. I really didn't think it took away any femininity from them. I guess my personal definition is just odd. (Yup, it all comes back to me. ;-) ) I thought it was a woman behaving as a human would when faced with major threats to the human species. I thought it was about having and using power, and my definition of power is: "that which accomplishes the goal." All humans have goals. I didn't find their behavior unfeminine because I recognized myself in a lot of it and I don't feel unfeminine, though I suppose other people might find me so... But I don't think I really want to know.

And here's an article on eye-contact that adresses both what Saje and Catherine were saying and what I was. We're all kinda right. ;-)

ETA: (Because this post wasn't quite long enough.) I guess I think of Ripley and Sarah Conner as still feminine because I believe that is their natural state of being, if they could choose. What we see on the screen is their natural responses to extraordinary circumstances, not necessarily their inherent preference as people if all was right with their world.

[ edited by BreathesStory on 2010-12-01 22:49 ]
*very direct in her speech... ( Directness is masculine? I thought it was just impatience with obtuseness, circumlocution, and stupidity.)

Directness in the sense of being confrontational is, yeah.

*happy (even keen) to challenge what others say... (But not without cause. She shouldn't just keep her mouth shut, right?)

Again, not talking about how she should behave, i'm talking about what's considered "manly" and what's considered e.g. "ladylike" - whether it's right they are or not is a different matter.

*clearly physically capable (and adept with machines, including weapons) (This one I understand, culturally speaking, but I guess I've known too many women who like cars, did black smithing, were in the army, went to a gym etc. for my brain to automatically equate: physically capable/machines/weapons=masculine. Even if they are a smaller percentage of the female population. I guess it just comes down to life experiences.)

No, it comes down to exactly what you say at the start, what you "understand, culturally speaking". Again, i'm not saying "This is what you should think of when you think of 'women'", i'm saying "This is what you should think of when you think of 'femininity'". That's the entire problem with traditional masculinity and femininity, it forces people into a role, whether it suits them or not.

*she's very self-contained... (Once again, I'd say in Aliens she's alone. She's thrown in with a close-knit group culture that she's not a part of initially. Not until they go through "shit" together and she proves herself worthy of their trust.)

You don't need to "defend" being self-contained, if I say it of someone I mean it as a compliment. Ripley's also pretty self-contained in 'Alien', 'Alien 3' and 'Alien: Resurrection', to me that seems to just be who she is rather than a response to circumstances (although obviously we only ever see her in pretty dire circumstances ;).

*not particularly diplomatic... (So tactlessness is unfeminine? I thought it was just gauche.)

Well, "not particularly diplomatic" is different to being undiplomatic (i.e. not being actively tactful in everything you say/do is different to being tactless in everything you say/do). But yeah, saying things that might offend or that maybe miss nuances of the current situation is seen as more traditionally masculine.

Gaucheness is a pertinent example in fact because it's similarly readily recognisable (at least within cultures) but not "built-in" to humans, it's something we learn, its avoidance is a way of behaving that's imposed upon us to some extent.

As to the rest, I don't in any way want to say "It's just you" BreathesStory partly because to me the point of examining masculinity and femininity is to point out that as categories they should be freer than they are (or even cease to exist altogether). At the same time, it seems like you think that if a woman acts a certain way and it's natural for her to do so then it must be feminine by definition which I don't think is the way most people see it and again, still seems to me to be equating femaleness with femininity - they overlap but they're not exactly the same because clearly there're so many different individual ways women behave that if they were the same then femininity would encompass every way women are capable of behaving. Which is basically every way men are capable of behaving too. Which means femininity is the same as masculinity and that either doesn't make sense or makes them meaningless terms (and yet as I say, most people recognise a man who isn't masculine quite readily, same with women - which is to say, they don't seem to be meaningless. Worthless maybe, outdated almost definitely, meaningless no).

I found them both emotional and vulnerable and empathic. I just thought they were trying to hold it back/stuff it down.

Maybe but that's a masculine trait too. There can be plenty of reasons for why they are the way they are, they still are that way.

(Well, crap. That's very disappointing to hear and have spelled out. I never personally thought of them that way.)

I think that's pretty amazing personally and I mean that mainly in the sense of "very cool" but also partly in the sense of "Do you watch films/TV, read books/magazines etc. ???" ;).

(read that link BTW and a few others and I have to say, though I don't know much about it, some of them didn't really impress me that much. Take
In contrast, men employ eye contact to mark status and dominance (men stare more than women). They use less eye contact with an individual as a way to communicate: "You are unimportant. I have a higher ranking than you."
from the eye-contact link. Doesn't that seem to not necessarily follow to anyone else ? I mean, men stare more and see eye contact as about status and dominance and yet when they don't make eye contact it's saying you're unimportant/of lower rank rather than e.g. I mean you no harm, i'm not challenging you, we don't need to engage in status/dominance rituals etc. ? I dunno which (if either) is true myself (though anecdotally i'd go with the latter), it just seems a bit sketchy to me to draw that conclusion. Noticed similar things in some of the other articles (in fairness though, these are short blog posts/articles from a pop-sci magazine so they're gonna be a bit short on detail/evidence and maybe skip some steps in their "working").

[ edited by Saje on 2010-12-02 00:58 ]
"Rightly or wrongly, most of these are associated with masculinity."... (Well, crap. That's very disappointing to hear and have spelled out. I never personally thought of them that way.)


Right here I think is the crux of any disagreement. I think the traits we've been talking about are typically, in our culture, associated with masculinity or femininity, however we may see them as individuals. I get the feeling that you're saying these cliches suck, which I agree with (and they are nothing more than cliches). But if you're actually saying you don't think the cliches exist, I'd have to disagree pretty strongly. Or, yanno, what Saje said (OK, now that's just getting dull ;)), so I'll address some of the other points.

As much as I like Buffy and agree with her broadening the idea of female power, it is also a little unsettling to have her held up as the example of what it means to be feminine. Fragile, small and apparently "cute" = feminine is depressing to hear.

Well, I think it comes down to definitions, and "feminine" can be used in different ways, obviously. I'm definitely not suggesting "In Order To Be Feminine You Must Be Cute And Little" - I'm saying that Buffy embodies a particular cliche of what is culturally perceived as Very Feminine.

And no, I didn't think Sarah Conner's physique was the feminine ideal. Her physique is too hard for most women to maintain naturally through moderate means. (I tend to take my cues from nature.) I just thought it was kinda cool. I also thought that it was the logical thing for a woman that's scared out of her mind for the human race and her son, to do whatever she thought would help them all survive.

Yes! I mean, Ripley and Sarah Conner are both pretty damn hot, so I'm not using "feminine" to mean attractive. And there are absolutely reasons for the way they behave or the way they engage in relationships, as there should be for any well-developed character, male or female. Feminine isn't a value judgment (well, it can be, but not here!). I'm just pointing out the difference between Ripley tough and Buffy tough, and saying, Buffy is more typically "feminine" and it's cool to see that, because you don't see it very often in female action heroes. If that was the cliche and we never got any Ripleys or Starbucks, that would suck too. I just think it's awesome to see something new, and Buffy was something Really New.

I guess it's just me then. Where everyone else seems to see women "butching up," I see a natural expression and participation of the woman in her life as she is currently experiencing it. I really didn't think it took away any femininity from them. I guess my personal definition is just odd.

I agree with the natural expression thing. I mean, I didn't feel like Starbuck "butched up" - I thought Starbuck was Starbuck and she kicked ass and yeah, Ripley and Sarah Conner were responding to their situations with the toughness required of them. But as for the cultural stereotype of "femininity" - well, I didn't see a lot of that in any of those three characters. I don't mean they weren't womanly, that they were "man-like" - but the way in which they were action heroes followed a male model, and I don't think that's a bad thing at all, as I said. What confuses me is when you talk about your personal definition. I'm not talking about my "personal" definition of femininity - I don't know that I have one, really - I'm talking about a cultural stereotype that just sort of is. Rightly or wrongly, as Saje says, it's out there, and it has nothing to do with our own feelings about men or women or what traits we personally associate with either sex.

I thought it was a woman behaving as a human would when faced with major threats to the human species. I thought it was about having and using power, and my definition of power is: "that which accomplishes the goal." All humans have goals. I didn't find their behavior unfeminine

Yes to all of this too! And it's not about saying, wow, Ripley is so unfeminine. But she is a long way from the cultural stereotype. Of course that's due to her reality. That was often the humor of Buffy, that you would expect her reality to change her but she remains resolutely girly, offs a couple of monsters and then looks stunning at prom. It was played for laughs and played for heartbreak depending on the episode. But in any case, she's a girly girl ("feminine" The Cliche) in a way that Ripley, for example, just isn't. Which doesn't make Ripley unwomanly in the slightest, but she's a different (and probably more "realistic") kind of action hero.

I guess I think of Ripley and Sarah Conner as still feminine because I believe that is their natural state of being, if they could choose. What we see on the screen is their natural responses to extraordinary circumstances, not necessarily their inherent preference as people if all was right with their world.

Fair enough, I just think we are using slightly different definitions of feminine. It would never occur to me to think, ahh, Ripley would really just like to wear pretty dresses and lipstick and have a cute boyfriend (which is often exactly what Buffy longs for). So again, using feminine in a very superficial and cliched way, not as a kind of value judgment and not as a credential for womanliness, sexiness, attractiveness, or anything else.

And also, because it's much better put than this whole long screed I'm posting, I'll just pull another WSS and paste this and say yes yes:

he point of examining masculinity and femininity is to point out that as categories they should be freer than they are (or even cease to exist altogether). At the same time, it seems like you think that if a woman acts a certain way and it's natural for her to do so then it must be feminine by definition which I don't think is the way most people see it and again, still seems to me to be equating femaleness with femininity - they overlap but they're not exactly the same because clearly there're so many different individual ways women behave that if they were the same then femininity would encompass every way women are capable of behaving. Which is basically every way men are capable of behaving too. Which means femininity is the same as masculinity and that either doesn't make sense or makes them meaningless terms (and yet as I say, most people recognise a man who isn't masculine quite readily, same with women - which is to say, they don't seem to be meaningless. Worthless maybe, outdated almost definitely, meaningless no).


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