Sunday, June 1, 2014

Distinction: One Confusion in Gender Norm Analyses

There's a confusion that I've seen in various places whenever an analysis on gender norms is done (and perhaps this tendency exists only among "amateur" analyses). I don't put much interest into such analyses, so I don't keep record of them and can't give any specific examples of where I've seen it happen, but whenever I do read a gender norm analysis, I usually also spot this confusion:

There is a difference between the presentation of the male dominating stereotype with its corresponding female submissiveness and the presence of weakness in a female character at all.

The presence of weakness in a woman is not per se an indication of a gender norm unless one wants to hold that depicting weakness in anyone is a sign of gender/sexual stratification, which seems absurd to me. As humans, we have weaknesses and strengths, each adapted to the individual and circumstances. I've never seen a gender analysis note the unfairness of depicting weakness in any male character. It only rages against that weakness present in female characters.

These analyses, however, do not make their context clear enough: weakness present in female characters becomes gender typing only when the contrast to the presence of strength in male characters is predominant. Sometimes this distinction is made only in a passing paragraph or in the conclusion.

Sometimes I've seen gender norm analysis imply some very bizarre things: for example, if the presence of weakness in female characters is lamented, then the implication (whether the analyzer means it or not) is that female characters ought to be predominantly if not completely strong characters. Yes, it is bizarre and absurd when spelled out so explicitly, but this implication occurs when people tend to write without sufficient clarity and distinction of terms and context. Perhaps one could do a gender norm analysis of these analyses...

Typically (and must this really be stated?), people are interested in characters that possess both strengths and weaknesses. An impenetrable character as well as an infantile character are uninteresting because there is no way to relate to them. If there is a character shrouded by mystery, the assumption is that there is an underlying motive behind that mystery; otherwise the mystery loses its allure. If that motive is not gradually revealed in some way, that mystery loses its appeal. The difficulty for fiction writers is striking the balance between revealing too much and not enough. (E.g. Thomas Harris, who introduced the character Hannibal Lecter to the world, perhaps ended up by revealing too much of the origins of the character's disorder.)

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