Get Me Off This Damn Pedestal

A couple of years ago one of my classmates wrote a piece in which he hypothesized that centuries of oppression have made women stronger, more beautiful, far more intelligent, and overall superior to men. Luckily, he showed it to me before it ever saw the light of day, and in accordance with my feminism I advised him to dispose of it at once for its intense misogyny. I didn’t know where he would ever get such an idea, and I was too horrified to ask.

Aside from disparaging men, the piece was misogynist, of course, in its outrageous suggestion that violent and devastating sexism against women has been in any way beneficial to us—a step beyond an evasion of responsibility to nearly a justification (which, in the context of patriarchy, is detrimental) for indescribably heinous crimes, and one with no supporting factual information save some crappily applied evolutionary psychology.

A recent discussion in the comment section reminded me of this, of this ostensible “elevation” of women to an inaccessible level in a patriarchy so that, conveniently, our influence is absent in practical life—instead we are muses, idols, objects of worship, and we are treasured (not loved) as long as we are unattainable—deliberately pushed away as to not interfere directly with matters of importance, and only as vessels through which men influence society. This creates a dangerous illusion that women are revered (can’t solve a problem you don’t see) when in reality our only value lies in how effectively we stay the hell out of the way. And, closely related to the adverse perspectives of courtly love, in how effectively we maintain “purity”—always a target pursued and never a human being. In courtly love, as soon as we are attainable (like a wife) and have descended from our magical thrones into humanness, we immediately lose every ounce of the superficial power we held, because our value is in being a target for poetry and pursuit, given away with virginity.

Besides depriving women of the very needs (like sex) that men entitle for themselves as “basic” when these are just as rightfully women’s, this positioning of women as the embodiment of morality is the destructive framework for victim-blaming. Women are expected to be morally flawless, and men—well, boys will be boys! Women consequently are societally expected to accept full responsibility. And I don’t think I need to illustrate how this is perpetuated in the media with the idealizing of a man overtaken uncontrollable desire ripping off the clothes of a passive woman and shoving her against a wall as some kind of a compliment to the woman.

Occasionally in movies, you’ll have a single woman sought out by or working against a team of men, a woman who is smarter than all of these men, or can kick every single one of their asses combined—highly problematic; when feminists ask for representation in movies, we ask for real representation, not this continuation of constructing a pedestal beneath us. Seriously, what is this bullshit? Why does this guy who’s supposed to be some sort of engineer super-genius unable to break this code without a sarcastic remark from this badass lady pointing out the obvious answer? Along with the blatant use of the Smurfette Principle, I can see right through this to the mockery at the core. These are not examples of “strong women.” You can’t just pile on awe-inspiring traits that make her infallible and call her a “strong character.” (And definitely not in those outfits. She can’t jump over buildings in that, that’s CLEARLY for you.) The best female characters have been human: they’re clumsy like Lucille Ball, they’re insufferable know-it-alls like Hermione Granger, they’re awkward and stubborn like Belle, they’re villainous and complex and in unbearable pain like Mal from Inception.

We want fully developed, fully human characters, with depth and dimension and talents and flaws, not tropes. And we want more of them (you know, like in reality) not a proportion of five dudes to one woman who encompasses all abilities. Women aren’t a monolith.

And despite my random claims to being a mermaid, I assure you I am human.

We are real people who have the right to directly influence society, not muses and idols and objects of worship, conveniently placed out of the way in pretend reverence, condescendingly prized as long as we don’t interfere with patriarchal agendas, held responsible for heinous crimes committed against us, and denied the needs you value as “basic.”

The objectification and dehumanization of women resulting from the exploitations of the media are strange in conjunction with the hypersexualization and portrayal of women as flawless (both morally and in terms of appearance) from the enduring framework of courtly love, because the latter contributes to some men feeling unworthy of women, whom they idolize as “superior.” I suspect that this is what happened with the classmate who wrote the paper. It’s greatly unfortunate that the extremes are entitled assholes (Nice Guys) and men who have genuinely begun to silently believe they are inferior and unworthy.

Women are just as fallible as men, and men are just as beautiful: the media simply focuses overwhelmingly on women and reinforces sexist stereotypes (men aren’t as sexy as women, women are more turned on by accomplishments, etc. etc.) to the extent where we have been conditioned to view women as objectively more attractive (influencing even heterosexual women) even while men have extraordinarily attractive features (large hands, hard jawline, low voice) that surely have naturally once had the same effect as high-breasted women with curved hips before the latter was overly exaggerated the former subdued.

12 thoughts on “Get Me Off This Damn Pedestal

  1. Pedestalization is a classic example of Ozy’s Law (I always feel weird citing my own law). It’s misandric, because it’s treating men as inherently worse than women; it’s misogynistic, because it’s not letting women be people who fuck up and make mistakes.

    I assume you’ve seen the really awesome picture of the protesting Mexican woman: “not saints, not whores, just women”? I think that’s a core slogan for my feminism. :)

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  2. almostclever

    I want to see ugly women have leading roles, old women with wrinkles be main characters that are living complex lives, fat women have any kind of leading role that doesn’t have to do with feeling bad about being fat! I want to see beautiful women be complex and intelligent, and FLAWED and not the token sexy girl or the badass chick who is just so above mankind. Where are they?! I have to go to international films to see truly authentic female characters. Women without porn bodies or airbrushed skin or perfect clothes, but still confident, BEAUTIFUL, flawed like ALL of us, sexual in a sex kind of way, not a glossy porn kind of way.

    One great example I have loved is the movie made from the book by Stieg Larson, “The girl who played with fire.” NOT the United States version, but the original Swedish movie. The main character Lizbeth, is goth, bi-sexual, IT savvy, hacker, rides a motorcycle, is sexual, BUT IS HUMAN.. She is a real woman, not some fetishized female cookie cutter. I love Indie films!

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    1. I’ve read all three of Stieg Larsson and watched all three Swedish film adaptations of same. The books are the best I’ve read in years, and although the movies left an awful lot of back-story out, I enjoyed them thoroughly. It is so hard to find any fiction, especially written by men, that presents three-dimensional women protagonists, and I think Larsson succeeded with Lisbeth Salander.

      In US-made TV series, I think that Battlestar Galactica did a decent (not great, but decent) job portraying Starbuck / Kara Thrace as a three-dimensional character – tough as nails and a very effective fighter pilot, but also conflicted and capable of making bad choices along with good ones.

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  3. I think comedy is the best genre for finding complex females…”30 Rock”‘s Liz Lemon or “Seinfeld”‘s Elaine or “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”‘s Dee are good examples. The worst genre is action, which almost always has a bunch of male characters plus a female non-character who is either impossibly perfect or exists only to get rescued–“Terminator”‘s Sarah Conner being the notable exception. (And arguably, “The Dark Knight”‘s Rachel Dawes, who gets rescued but is also a principled crime-fighting lawyer.)

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    1. Well, there was also Buffy Summers from Buffy The Vampire Slayer (the TV series, not the movie). But they amped up her eye-candy-ness just a little too much for my taste. I’m also not pleased that the women who *are* portrayed as three-dimensional complex characters are overwhelmingly white.

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  4. Kyra

    Most definitely. I’ve read a few books starring superheroine types with this casual perfection where the sum total of her problems are Mysterious Past, worshipful suitors, and Superpowers Aren’t Quite Sufficient. It gets old fast.

    At the other end of the spectrum, my favorite human character is Kaylin Neya, from the Chronicles of Elantra series. She has some pretty awesome, apart-setting magical talents, but at the same time she’s REAL, and flawed, and human—she’s perpetually late, has very little tact, regularly has cause to regret her lack of scholarly talents, has biases and bigotries and addresses them when they confront reality, can’t budget to save her life, is apparently pretty but not lovely and can’t be bothered to make an effort at it, and suffers realistically from things ranging from the annoying side effects of her magic to intense grief. And at the same time she’s courageous, loving, determined, inventive, idealistic, and lovable, and it’s perfectly believable that she’s saved the world a few times but still can’t land a promotion.

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