Tropes vs narratives - feminism's duplicity | HBR Talk 56

Feminist commentator Anita Sarkeesian has made a living complaining about damsel in distress tropes in today’s heroic fantasy stories, particularly in video games, but also in other entertainment media. Her grievances have become the battle cry of the social justice - or NPC -  invasion of the culture of nerdy, geeky pursuits in entertainment. Those whose activities built that culture are told we’re nerding and geeking wrong now; despite many of us being female, we’re apparently all anti-woman.

As we’ve described before, her main approach relies on twisting men’s hero stories into warped exploitation narratives, wherein the story itself doesn’t matter, nor does the value of esteem for heroism in the main character. No, the writer’s true intent was to victimize the story’s female supporting characters. 

We’re supposed to believe it’s misogynistic to flesh out the description of good characters by detailing their dedication to their closest loved ones, at least if the hero is male, and any of those loved ones are female supporting characters without active roles in the story. You see, everything always has to be all about women.

This is both highlighted and compounded by Sarkeesian’s feminist narrative on portrayal of benevolent masculinity in those relationships, especially when that’s contrasted against manifestations of scum and villainy as antagonists strike at heroes’ hearts and souls by attacking their loved ones. Somehow the full dastardly nature of evildoers cannot be an aspect of their enmity toward the hero if the hero loves any woman. Certainly not if, as part of his backstory, she is his world. 

Why? Because according to feminist logic, the point of celebrating heroic opposition to depravity and malice isn’t to laud benevolent masculinity or condemn brutality. The argument seems to be that when stories include female victim narratives, critical depictions of malicious conduct and sympathetic representation of its impact on victims and their loved ones normalizes that conduct. 

When that convoluted gripe is not taking center stage, it’s replaced with the complaint that representations of heroic responses to female vulnerability promote a dismissal of women’s capacity for strength and power… as if in order to be strong and powerful, a person must also be invulnerable. You’re apparently a misogynist now if you write stories in which the hero’s wife of daughter isn’t a mary sue. 

There’s a lot to criticize in Sarkeesian’s application of feminist logic to damsel tropes in entertainment media, and it’s all been covered extensively, but what we’re interested in for this episode is the conflict between that and feminism’s own damsel tropes. 

Remember, according to these criticisms, portrayal of women as victims normalizes victimizing women, even when that portrayal is sympathetic to the victim and involves condemnation of the culprit. At the same time, it demeans women as inferior, implying weakness, ineptitude, and incompetence. The damsel trope infantilizes women by ignoring their agency and implying that they must rely on men to protect them, or to avenge them should another man do them serious harm. It’s insulting, intimidating, and holds women back, right?

And the portrayal of men as heroes supposedly increases that by treating strength, power, and moral outrage over abuse as gendered traits, inherently masculine. This supposedly teaches girls that they cannot exhibit these traits because of their sex, again, holding them back from achieving the greatness such characteristics can promote.

So why is it that feminism’s public rhetoric on gender issues relies so heavily on these same tropes? Every narrative the movement uses treats women as victims, often of their own choices… and portrays men or aspects of masculinity as both the perpetrator and the obligatory hero. 

Think about Patriarchy theory, a supposed system of social structures and practices in which men dominate, oppress, and exploit women. This system is said to have existed pretty much throughout civilized history, replacing egalitarian stone age civilizations for, according to feminist scholar Gerda Lerner, no apparent reason. Wikipedia’s wikiproject_feminism writers, citing American anthropologist Marvin Harris, blame the concept of fatherhood. (Remember, folks… feminism is not about hating men, and feminists don’t have daddy issues.)

Whatever the reason, according to feminists, since the inception of the Patriarchy of feminist imagining, the male half of the population has basically used a combination of physical violence and emotional abuse to subjugate the female half of the population against their will. In the patriarchy of feminist imagining, men have successful careers that bring them prestige, wealth, and power. Women have babies. The narrative is basically that women would achieve the same success, if only it weren’t for that darned violent and abusive patriarchy keeping them down. 

How does that not contradict the feminist notion that women’s capabilities are the same as those of men in everything? Certainly, we cannot be expected to believe that one population so brutally dominated another, entirely equal and population with identical interests, aptitudes, and predispositions into a subordinate, dependent role that would forego those successes, totally against that subordinate population’s will. That would be irrational. 

So how could such a system exist? There are three logical possibilities. One is female complicity: The totally equal in all ways population of women went along with the social changes that led to such a system, perhaps because that exempted them from the degree and scope of risk-taking and responsibility men had to live up to, to fill the role into which it placed them… or perhaps more specifically because it would change women’s role in tribal wars. Under an egalitarian system, there would be no reason for women to be exempt from the expectation that they enter combat alongside the men of their tribe to defend their land and their homes against invading forces. The rationale for a male frontline, female second line of defense hierarchy would open the door to structuring other aspects of society in that way. However, I have not seen feminists consider this possibility.

Another possibility is actual gender asymmetry: Naturally evolving differences between male and female humans led to the evolution of differing gender roles, with the concept of fatherhood developing as a result of that evolution combined with increases in our ancestors’ understanding of basic biology. Rather than male humans subjugating their female counterparts, the sexes formed cooperative habits, adopted by the majority of the population, in response to changes in their environment as human civilization emerged and grew, with outliers to this development actually just being holdovers from the previous, egalitarian norm. That idea isn’t far off of what’s been postulated by neo-traditionalist conservatives. 

The third possibility is a combination of the first two: As human understanding of math and science led to more modern construction of structures, more advanced medicine and technology, and more dangerous weaponry, our ancestors both naturally and consciously gravitated toward a system of gender roles that would preserve the communities they had formed and ensure the welfare of their children. If anything, this would be the most likely way the system feminists call patriarchy would have formed. However, it still wouldn’t be a system of male over female domination, but one of coordination, and cooperation. 

Instead, feminists appear to have adopted the belief that there is only one natural difference between men and women: They view despotism as a masculine trait against which otherwise totally equal women have no apparent defense.

That seems to be the underlying premise of the victim narrative that is Patriarchy theory, and most grassroots feminists who blame Patriarchy for everything bad in the world don’t even realize they’re operating on that assumption. They cannot articulate it. They cannot explain the theory without it. They just have this free-floating sense of victimhood without any solid understanding of why.  

Therefore, when asked to prove the concept is valid and concrete, all they can do is argue in circles. 

They cite adversity women face, and limiting female gender roles as evidence that women are oppressed, and women’s supposed oppression as evidence of Patriarchy. When adversity men face and limiting male gender roles are brought to their attention, they compartmentalize. The excuse completes the circle: It’s different when women face adversity and limiting gender roles, because those are imposed on women under an oppressive patriarchal system.

They do this without ever realizing they have just completed a circle to cite patriarchy as evidence of itself. 

Many complaints feminists make about hero and damsel tropes in stories are true about Patriarchy Theory. It is demeaning to both sexes, demonizes men, and infantilizes women. If a video game were created with such a system cited as the hero’s motivation for his actions, a never-ending quest to rescue his girlfriend from an evil, domineering enemy that was basically Patriarchy by some other name, feminists like Sarkeesian would blow their stacks. Cries of misogyny, anti-woman rhetoric, and normalizing subjugation of women would be leveled at the game’s creators, along with demands that the whole thing be scrapped. How dare anyone tell such a story! And yet, feminists have no problem doing it all the time.

The wage gap narrative is probably the most blatant, overtly presuming women victims of their own choices. In regard to the supposed gap, it has been unequivocally proved that, as stated in the CONSAD report, “the differences in the compensation of men and women are the result of a  multitude of factors” and “the raw wage gap should not be used as the basis to justify corrective action.  Indeed, there may be nothing to correct.  The differences in raw wages may be almost entirely the result of the individual choices being made by both male and female workers.”

Feminists have responded to this by claiming women’s choices are imposed on them by patriarchy, and essentially arguing that their employers owe them a salary for everything they do at home for the benefit of their own families. Working women, feminists insist, are victims of the combination of their own decisions to fill these roles, men’s decisions to not fill these roles, and employers’ decisions to compensate workers based on their contributions to the workplace rather than the overall value their life choices bring to society in general.
In other words, feminists don’t understand economics.

Apply the Sarkeesian standard to the feminist outlook on heterosexual relationships, and you get the same thing. On the surface, “yes means yes” sounds like a great way of preventing conflict and suffering, until you think about the fact that it’s based on gendering concepts like agency and accountability. As we’ve discussed before, feminists butcher the concept of boundaries. They ignore women’s agency when boundary identification, establishment, communication, and enforcement are under consideration. They ignore men’s autonomy when their boundaries are in conflict with a woman’s interests. They treat any discussion that attributes to women any agency and responsibility regarding their own boundaries as evidence of a rape culture, and any discussion that holds women accountable when they violate men’s boundaries as a tu quoque attack on female victim narratives. “You can’t say men are equally victimized by female-perpetrated sexual assault! That’s just an attack on women who have been raped! It’s not the same, because women are harmless! You’re just trying to make rape of women sound harmless!”

Once again, this outlook demeans both sexes, demonizing and dehumanizing men, and infantilizing women.

Talk about bi-directional partner violence, and feminists fall back on the same circular reasoning they use to support Patriarchy theory. It’s not the same - men hit women to exercise power and control, while women who hit men are anticipating or responding to men’s bad behavior. And that’s totally not about power or control.

Object to inequalities in the area of reproductive rights, parental rights, and parental responsibility, and you’ll receive a barrage of arguments that boil down to labeling any expectation of equal female agency and accountability “misogyny,” while excusing discrimination against fathers as a symptom of Patriarchy. Women are literally victims of their own choices, and by some convoluted logic, men are to blame.

This thread continues throughout feminism’s responses to everything. Each issue that gets discussed is put through the filter of Patriarchy theory’s original victim narrative, coloring the feminist outlook to match. How did Anita put it?

“Everything is sexist, everything is racist, everything is homophobic and you have to point it all out.”

There you have it. The whole world is a feminist damsel trope. There is no escape, no relief. Women are victims of everything. You can’t get much more in need of a rescue than that.

And who, in this world of male oppressors and female victims, is the hero feminists call would upon for that?

(Two quotes from Emma Watson’s first #HeForShe speech)

“I want men to take up this mantle.”

Is anybody surprised?

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