Sometimes I hate what Sabrina Chase named “the mass industrial entertainment complex.” Mostly, you know, the news, movies, book publishers, the whole blind kitten (caboodle) litter of them. (Only blind kittens are cute.)
They have this irrepressible need to reduce everything to the minimum common denominator. I don’t know if it’s because their education was lacking or because since WWII our family structures have been more and more “off” and our kids more and more raised by strangers, or if it’s the need to sell concepts that don’t work really well with marketable buzz words in a corporate setting, but we often have to look at it and wonder if these people are actually human, or if they understand any of the fundamental concepts that have hemmed human lives since forever.
So, you know, once the industrial entertainment complex go hold of oh, love, it didn’t take very long (20 years maybe) for the concept of love of be submerged on a tide of “it’s really good sex.”
Look, I have been married 35 years, and I have absolutely nothing against really good sex (on the contrary.) Really good sex can be a bonding exercise, and it can take you through some pretty stressful times. I’m not that fond of reading about really good sex, but that’s mostly because… well, I’m not a voyeur. Some things are to be enjoyed, not described.
Romances used to be fairly clean, a kind of emotional porn (which by and large works well for women.) In the late seventies (well, I read a lot of older stuff) things became more explicit. Sure, whatever. Unless something emotional and important happens during the sex, I kind of skimmed it.
But around 2015, most Romances were becoming actual erotica, and if I skimmed the sex parts I could read a fat romance book in an hour.
Worse, there was no emotion. There was this weird, bizarre concept that if you had really good sex it meant you were in love, and it would last forever.
This is kind of the equivalent of saying that if you really like chocolate, you should just eat chocolate, because it means it’s what your body needs to survive. Or worse, it’s what your soul needs to survive.
I find myself annoyed by it, because stories — in turn — form people and give them an idea of what the world is like. And if you think really good sex is the equivalent of love, when you hit a time in your life when you’re too stressed to feel as much as you normally would, or when you’re sick and can’t have sex, or a myriad other circumstances that arise in a long marriage? You’re going to think the sex isn’t great, so you must not be in love anymore. And that can corrode a relationship from the inside.
I’ve seen this happen among younger people, raised on this.
Frankly, it’s not the only weird notion they’ve come up with. And they’re all sort of insane. Their notion that the books are supposed to be some kind of (mostly Marxist) uplifting influence on society translates to younger people having this totally distorted idea that victims are somehow holy.
I find myself trying to mentor young writers who think the way to create an admirable hero/protag is to have shit raining on him/her day and night, without his doing anything to solve the problem, until suddenly, automagically people realize he/she is oppressed and THEREFORE they must be admirable and celebrated. The heck? How? I mean, I know this was the structure of everything my kids got assigned in school, but seriously?
THAT’S NOT HOW ANY OF THIS WORKS. No wonder these people keep becoming cry-bullies, since the highest form of heroism is to play the victim.
However, perhaps no concept has been so profoundly abused as the “Strong woman” concept. Apparently the retards of Hollywood (apology to mentally handicapped people) and the morons (ditto) of publishing could only think of a way out of the rather vapid pulp heroines (well, some of them. Some were fine. And some were even strong, but yes, there were a number of them who were basically “what men fight for” and very sketchily drawn as characters, particularly in the 20s or early 30s.) and that was: let’s make woman strong.
Nothing wrong with that. Every protag and supporting character should be strong. A villain is only as big as the villain and vice versa, and why would you write “small” books? (and hey, the same people who created our “strong” women would think this means I want to read 600k word books)
Except that most of these people are either privileged or maimed (or both, of course) and have the emotional maturity of toddlers. So to them strong woman meant “urr durr strong woman beat up men.” Which is like thinking Great Sex is LOVE. Sure. It can be ONE of the aspects. BUT it sure as heck isn’t the thing and the whole of the thing. And thinking it is breaks things. Well, people, mostly.
Someone the other day asked if it was even possible these days to make a series about an action hero who is male and which isn’t based on older properties. In traditional publishing or Hollywood? Probably not. I’m fairly sure Die Hard would never happen now.
The insanity of this is that while women can beat up men in a straight fight, if you go for an extremely strong woman and an extremely weak (or perhaps handicapped) man, it is not the normal thing, much less the predominant thing. Certainly not among assassins or trained spies or vigilantes.
It’s still possible, of course for women to beat up men, but it’s most likely to happen to if the woman takes the man by surprise and fights very very dirty. (I’ve won some battles that way. Mind you, I had the advantage of a 10 year older brother who was built like a brick shithouse. I learned early that fighting fair just meant I ended up crying.)
Once you realize that women OLYMPIC records match the high school athlete records for males in your average US highschool, you realize that this entire emphasis on women’s PHYSICAL strength is insanely stupid. And raising girls to think that’s the sort of strength they have or can have is– I don’t know. What’s a stronger word than criminally insane?
I realized this some years ago when a female childhood friend of my older son’s, at a party, told him, with absolute confidence, that she could beat him. Older son at the time was, I think, 300 lbs (and not really fat.) She was maybe 90lbs. He told her that. She said she was “90 lbs of get back” and tried to get him to “fight” with her.
Fortunately older son (both sons, really) because they were always outsized and much stronger than they should be at whatever size, had been trained not to hurt anyone smaller than him. But I kept thinking of this girl doing that to a less civilized man and the horror that could result. And I’m sure it’s happened to women raised with this bizarre idea. More than once.
Then last week as I was watching the thing with Gina Carano play out, I realized it’s not just that they reduce “strength” to physical strength. They seem not to recognize true strength when they see it.
Most strong women are exactly the same the same as most strong men. No, not physically. I mean, I’m fairly strong (or was) for a female, but my 14 year old son was stronger than I as I found out when shopping for cement.
But …. There is a strength that transcends the physical.
Off the top of my head:
Strong people live for something that’s bigger than them. This can be their religion, their nation, their family or their dream. Or, yes, all of the above.
Those things are important enough not to allow the person to be swayed this way and that. Important enough to make sacrifices for. Important enough to keep working for, even if you don’t enjoy it, even if you think you can’t, even if it takes everything else in you.
Strong people have principles they will not betray. You can, metaphorically, offer them all the kingdoms of the world, but they won’t do what’s wrong in their eyes to obtain it. Even if this means they lose everything, they will not bend.
Strong people don’t give up. They are what Dave Freer calls battlers. They can get pounded down, but you know they’re going to rise up again, and try. Again, and again and again. (Think of Inigo Montoyal, in Princess Bride, in pursuit of his revenge. Though what strong people pursue can be wholly constructive instead of reactive. In fact, it often is.)
Strong people will endure terrible conditions to make sure what’s important to them survives. They will often, themselves, live when they should have been dead, to complete the task they feel is more important than life.
Now, strong people make great heroes, but it takes a better writer than most of the people who write for Hollywood these days.
That said there is a type of strength that is peculiar to women. I don’t know where I read that women “glory in sacrificing for their families” and that might not be precisely true.
It’s more that strong women can make the exact same sacrifices as men but hide them better. I watched this with my mother and grandmother suddenly being “not hungry” and just eating a couple of bites when someone in the family was sick or had worked physically hard and needed the protein, when there wasn’t enough money to go around.
A strong woman can do the same as a strong man, but self-efface, and make the person who needs to think of himself or herself as the hero do so. It’s not always a family. Sometimes it’s a cause.
Casablanca resonates for a reason. She gives up love, because saving the world from totalitarianism is more important.
But at least growing up, mostly we saw it in family context, because that’s where most of us saw things up close and personal. Like the way my mom made the most work in the household for the first ten years of her marriage, but when dad was home she acted like a housewife, and never let him know she was doing two hard jobs, so he could do …. well, the equivalent of a training job, and get good at his own career (engineering.) Eventually his earning eclipsed her exponentially. And then she made jokes about the years that she kept us fed and clothed when he made barely enough for his work attire. BUT in those years, when it was so, even when they were arguing, this never crossed her lips. Not once. Because he needed to be built up, so he could do what he had to do.
So, I guess a strong woman is exactly like a strong man — in every way but physical — but can do it with grace, quietly, and build others up in the process. (Yes, some men can do this too. The personality type is just rarer. Again, every characteristic is a continuum.)
Or at least most women have the capacity to do that, unless an entire cultural complex is devoted to make them value their physical strength above all else.
And then once they find out they don’t have much of that, they’ll feel put upon and inferior.
Perhaps of course, that is part of the plan, creating permanent victims.
Because neither Hollywood nor traditional publishing have any idea what to do with real strong people, men or women.