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14 April 2006

Women in Fiction and the Cult of Victimization, or...

...why we are getting no better than we deserve. There is one thing that stands out about women (women...not females...women, when did we start accepting the view that we deserve no better distinction than animals? You rarely hear of men referred to as males.) in modern fiction.

My how she suffers. And in SUCH a boring way. Granted, I have been reading the literary equivalent of sitcoms...or perhaps even reality TV. But the truth is whether you are reading early Oprah’s Book Club or late Hilary de Vries, the thing that women do most and least interestingly in pop fiction, is suffer...and at the hands of women authors. I’m not saying there aren’t great books clearly written with the intent of being significant literary works. But what most people are sucking down, like McDonald’s or Baskin and Robbins are these ridiculously reactive intensely bland female (and I do credit them with that dishonor) protagonists, who think, believe, stand for...nothing at all. All they do is emote...and suffer. The Order of Poor Claire’s (White Oleander, the movie. Check it out it’s a lot of fun and a startling exception to my current rant. Michelle Pfeiffer is fabulous). Boring.

So right now, I’m engaged on a course of light reading. I just read. Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, and I’m still depressed. I ought to have known better. I saw Howard’s End, like 80 times ten years ago and still haven’t gotten over it. So anyway, I thought to perk myself up with a foray into light, non-genre popular women’s fiction. And is this how we see ourselves. Or rather because fictional characters are about how we would like to perceive our existence, is this how we want to see ourselves? Twenty something, amoral, dull and victimized. And truth to tell, as far as I’m concerned, ‘dull’, is the worst of the four. Be Kate Winslet in like, every movie she’s ever done. Be Linda Fiorentino, in like...well, every movie she’s ever done. You can even be...okay, I’m looking for the Hollywood actress who does suffering, to complete the analogy. But I can’t think of anyone. Help me out here?

But do not, do not invite me inside the head of a character and then put me to sleep. When did bland become so cool? I know I know. My head has been in the sand while MTV and Madison Avenue took over the planet. Somehow I did not notice that everything about women today has become drop dead...boring. As if straight [hair, faces, clothes], skinny conformity has become the ideal of every woman under 40. I expect girls on TV to have a certain sameness about them. But when did this happen? When did every girl on every TV show or in popular film, begin to look, act and dress exactly alike? And for so long? I mean, sleeveless cotton/spandex T’s and hip-hugger jeans have been hot for, what, ten years now? Is there anything more uninteresting?

We complain about men. We complain about men a lot. We blame them for objectification and the unreal media expectations. We say that they either want to infantilise or brutalize us. We blame them for our unhappiness in whichever relationship we happen to be in at the moment. But the truth. We do this to ourselves. The unrealistic expectations and objectification . . . women’s magazines, reinforced by women’s fiction and chick flicks; often written and promoted by . . . you got it . . . other women. As for infantilisation and brutalization . . . have you seen Lifetime TV, the WB or any ‘women’s’ television show? And again, reinforced by popular women’s fiction . . . written by whom? Women.

And I admit . . . I get into my Markie Post-Judith Light-Lifetime Movie marathon moods just like everyone else. It’s just. . .am I wrong or is insipid victimization our most prevalent form of escapist entertainment? I mean really. Am I wrong?

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