Sunday, January 5, 2014

Thoughts on Tauriel, Postmen, Creativity, and Feminism

(Or) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Character and The Desolation of Feminism

So I told you how I loved The Hobbit in every way shape and form, but I didn't talk about PJ's little infraction.

It was quite a scandal: PJ invented a character out of thin air. Tauriel the Woodelf, a captain of the guard and Legolas' secret crush. She wasn't created for romance and the movie didn't linger overlong on those details; she was created so that the fighters and adventurers wouldn't all be men. PJ was reaching out to his female fans and creating a strong female character for them, plain and simple.

But frankly, I don't care; I would have been just as moved without Tauriel.

The loyalty that lies between the company in The Hobbit or the fellowship in LotR is just as inspiring for a girl as it is for a guy, despite the lack of women in either group. I don't have to be male to feel the sense of camaraderie. Something doesn't have to be dished to me through a character similar to me for me to get it. Of the books we read and movies we watch, how many of the protagonists are similar to ourselves? Not many. There is a diverse plethora of protagonists and we learn from all of them.

Maybe the point of art is to change us not by showing us people similar to us, but people who are different. Maybe I'll learn to appreciate life better, to make better choices, to face my own adventures bravely not through a twenty-first century young female but through a made-up, food-loving male hobbit. If I wanted the former, I could just read nonfiction--or live my life. But I'm reading fiction and I'm prepared to use my imagination. I'm reading fantasy because I'm looking for something outside of my experience to draw me out of myself and deeper into life.

I get why PJ did it, but I disagree that it was necessary. He bought into the idea that something has to be relatable for us to find truth in it. I think art is supposed to be the opposite: finding truth in it is what makes it relatable. For example, the friendship between Harry, Hermione, and Ron is what makes the Harry Potter series so relatable, not the magic; that's just setting. But Christian parents went up in arms for awhile because they thought that kids would suddenly start doing voodoo. Harry Potter helps kids value their friends and understand that nothing in life can be done alone. That's a lesson every kid needs to learn.*

It's the loyalty and fun between the Dwarves and Bilbo that attracts me, not their gender. It's the truth of how life's journeys change us that I relate to. I don't need to see a woman fighting to be able to engage in the battle for home and freedom taking place.

I liked the character Tauriel. She was well-written and well-executed. I liked that her presence meant more Sindarin was spoken. But the reasons for her creation were unnecessary. I appreciated her, but I didn't need her.

I don't feel that a movie with all men is telling me that only men can be heroes. I don't see any deeper message in an all-male cast; it's just a coincidence. I don't need to see a woman to feel better about myself, as if I have (or am supposed to have) low self-esteem because I am a woman. Yet our culture assumes that my femininity is something I will look down on in myself, and so they must buck me up by showing me heroic females. Why? Is that because secretly our culture does no believe in the heroic female? The whole thing feels like a false smile.

It's like how I don't need the words postwoman and policewoman and congresswoman and all the other -woman's. It's rubbish. A woman can be a policeman. When you add that extra syllable, contrary to feeling included, I feel demeaned. What's the difference between a postwoman and a postman? A woman or a man executing the job do all the same things. If there's no difference, why create another word for women? Why categorize separately someone who is supposedly equal?

I don't think the lingering patriarchy of our society will be defeated by continuing to discriminate gender with our words. Let's stop fighting for -woman words or, even worse, -member words. Having different words for men and women inherently discriminates between men and women. If you want to be blind to gender when it comes to things like employment, creating female job titles is not the way to go.

Here's the thing with words like postman and mankind. Growing up using those supposedly male terms has given me an insensitivity to the gender evoked by them. In other words, when you talk about man, I'm never sure if you mean men or everyone. Men are losing the gender terms that used to belong to them.

People claim that using postman demeans women, but I think that if anything, it demeans men. "Men" are no longer men; they can be women too. Even "brothers" can refer to women. While we women have some words to ourselves (woman, sister), the words used to refer to our male counterparts belong to us, too. Only females are "women" but "men" can be anyone. A group of women in legislative positions can call themselves congressmen and be totally correct; but a man will never be a congresswoman. Male words are becoming genderless and men are being lost into the sea of everyone else.

So let's dispense with these silly words that only further divide and condemn us. As a woman, I could be a postman if I wanted. Deal with it. That's equal rights.

And as a woman, I am creative enough to be inspired to courage even though most action-adventure movies don't pass the Bechdel Test. I don't have to see a woman fighting off the badguys to know that I am capable of as much bravery as men. When I was a kid, I put myself into the stories I read. But I was never the damsel in distress: I put myself in there as another one of the fighters, adventurers, magicians, whatever. I wasn't constrained by the gender of the characters nor by a Disney-fied version of femininity: I knew that my place was at the fore with the rest of them and that being a woman made no difference whatsoever in my being qualified to be a fighter and a leader.

Let's raise our daughters that way, wise enough to not need media to define femininity for them, as if women are too weak to define our place in the world ourselves. We don't need handouts. Let's raise our kids to be creative and not coddle them with "relatable characters" until their imagination atrophies. Let them encounter people who are different and learn to engage. Let's stop playing to the masses and instead let them stretch their mental muscles a little. It won't kill us to have to think for ourselves from time to time.

Word count: 1187. Sorry guys, I went long.

* I would love to see thirteen-year-old kids reading Harry Potter rather than real-world fiction like Lord of the Flies or The Stranger. We can learn about hate and human depravity later (I appreciated those books so much better at the age of eighteen). Kids already know a lot about evil in the world, and they don't need us to tell them that people can be illogical, irascible, and abusive. What kids need from us first, before a study on violence and the psyche, is to know that true goodness is forged from true friends and that evil can be indeed be beaten if we stick together. Maybe then we'd stop seeing so much bullying, suicide, depression, loneliness, anger, and violence among teens and preteens. If story is where we learn how to truly God, what are we teaching them?