After reading the staggeringly tone-deaf list of things to know before dating a feminist, I thought it might be useful to provide a list of what someone – a modern woman within what seem to me to be the typical range of socio-political views – ought to know before dating a Traditionalist (which is my present label for my own set of views), hopefully while avoiding the pitfalls of the other list.
- Just because he is not a feminist does not mean he doesn’t respect you. From his perspective, it is quite the reverse.
- He is going to pay for the meal, open the door, and walk you to your car or to your door. He is not going to ask to come up either on this date or any other. For goodness sakes, do not take offense at any of this.
- He will not swear in front of you and you shouldn’t swear in front of him
- He will not be offended if you question his beliefs. It will not be the first time.
- He is not necessarily going to ask that you share his views, only that you don’t call him a moron, bigot, or (God forbid) ‘Nazi’ for having them.
- You will never win a debate with him by using the word “racist,” “sexist,” or any similar term.
- Don’t expect much from the word “equality” either.
- Telling him how one of his favorite films / books is actually sexist is a good way to ensure there will not be a second date. This goes double if you haven’t actually seen / read it.
- Trying to justify the murder of children by appealing to ‘choice’ will end poorly.
- He will not find you more attractive the more skin you show or the tighter your clothes are.
- Just because he is polite and dresses well does not mean he is not dangerous. This is a good thing.
- His idea of ‘women’s history’ is “Theresa of Avilla and Maria Theresa.” Citing a suffragette or (God forbid) a politician as an example of a great woman will only tempt him to mockery.
- He does not want to talk about sex past, present, or future on a first date. Probably not on the second one either.
- There is about a 50/50 chance he will recite poetry during the evening. Remain calm and let it run its course.
- He expects you to be as rational as he is.
I found a video mocking this list and I knew I had to have a go at it. The original is in italics and my comments are in bold.
14 Things You Should Know Before Dating a Feminist
She’s basically the most amazing person on the planet.
Yes, that is the tagline. See for yourself. Needless to say, the article does not back this assertion up.
(by the way, Cosmo asked me to subscribe by swearing at me. Classy)
- You’d better be prepared to look at the world/movies/TV shows/everything more closely than you used to. There might be a movie that you really love that you never noticed was super-crazy sexist, and you need to at least be open to hearing her explain why it is and looking at it from another perspective. I dated a guy who hated when I would do this and you will never guess how quickly I dumped him because haha no.
We’re off to a grand start: the very first thing you can expect when dating a feminist is that she’ll criticize you and/or something you love and you’d better not complain about it. Notice how she boasts of ‘dumping’ a guy who hated when she did this, as if it’s absolutely unreasonable to get irritated when your girlfriend keeps telling you that the things you like are ‘super-crazy sexist.’
Note also that this is her idea of “looking more closely at the world:” searching for more reasons to be offended.
2. If you don’t identify as a feminist already, you should figure out why that is before going for her. Do you think she should make less than you make for doing the exact same job? No? Then you’re a feminist. This is not difficult, Jeremy.
This probably should have been number one, though perhaps she thought the first item was less ‘provocative.’ Or she just didn’t put any thought to logical progression. Probably that.
Anyway, here she plays the trick of trying to force the other person to accept a certain identification, which she then can claim the right to define, effectively invalidating his right to argue with her. The game goes “do you believe this ostensibly reasonable thing? Then you’re a feminist. A feminist listens to women. Oh, you want to have your own opinion? I guess you don’t really listen to women, because if you did you’d think what I say you should. That means you really think women are inferior.”
For what it’s worth, I’ve long since figured out why I’m not a feminist, and people like her are Exhibit A.
3. You’re not necessarily going to offend her because she’s a feminist and you paid for her tea. I had a guy buy me an iced tea once and he acted like he wasn’t sure whether to pat himself on the back for being such a good guy or apologize for acting like he owned me. My tea was $1.50, dude. Calm down. If you’re doing a nice thing because you want to do a nice thing, I will love that. Who wouldn’t?
So, this is a woman who is so unpredictable and thin-skinned that a guy becomes nervous when he tries to practice basic politeness. She then makes fun of him for it. Notice how her reconstruction of his thought process is “am I a good guy, or did I act like I owned her?”
A healthy person’s mind doesn’t even consider the possibility that, “he paid for my drink” could mean, “he thinks he owns me” (how on Earth would that even work?). Note the ‘not necessarily’ in the title and that her justification for not being offended being ‘it was cheap.’
4. Please at least know some basic women’s history. See: Leslie Knope being pissed Officer Dave didn’t know who Madeline Albright was or me being pissed that a guy doesn’t know what riot grrrl music is.
Yeah…when she talks about knowing ‘women’s history’ and immediately cites a TV comedy referencing someone from the Clinton cabinet, that doesn’t really convince me she knows much history. This impression is reinforced by her other example being ‘riot grrrl music.’ That sure sounds like a turning point of history.
The thing is, this isn’t just a matter of making fun of these specific examples: it’s the question of why would she pick those? Even on her own standing, surely citing someone like Helen Keller or Susan B. Anthony would hold a heck of a lot more weight; instead her idea of history is…’riot grrrl music.’ It’s as if someone claimed to be a connoisseur of cinema, and as a proof said that her favorite movie is The Last Jedi.
As for basic ‘women’s history,’ do you mean people like Empress Maria Theresa, Queen Isabella of Spain, Princess Elizabeth of Hungary, Queen Christina of Sweden, Queen Victoria, Czarina Catherine, Abigail Adams, etc.? Or perhaps women like Theresa of Avilla, Hildegard of Bingen, Clare of Assisi, Scholastica, Joan of Arc, Catherine of Sienna etc.? That is, any ‘women’s history’ that extends beyond the 20th century?
(Also, remember that back in number one she dumped a guy for being annoyed that she was trash talking the things he liked. Now she gets mad that someone simply isn’t familiar with her pet interests)
5. “So do you hate men?” is a “joke” she has heard about 5,000 times. And if you make it, I will think you are both uncreative and kind of a dick. Like, are you serious? It’s not 1962 (and let’s be honest, no one thought it was funny then either.)
Judging by this list, that isn’t a joke; it’s an entirely reasonable question. I also note that she doesn’t answer it.
6. She thinks she’s just as entitled to an orgasm as you are, which will make sex really fun if you’re good in bed or very confusing if you’re not. One time I literally sat on a hookup’s bed after they’d had an orgasm and said, “I didn’t come. I’m not leaving this room until I do,” and I waited. Ohhhh, I waited
. Uh…no comment.
7. It’s fine if you hold the door for her. Just don’t act totally shocked when she’s equally as polite and holds it for you.
The fact that she feels the need to assure him that she will not be offended if he holds the door for her is telling. Also, note how she immediately undercuts it by insisting that it’s just as polite for a woman to hold the door for a man, showing that she’s unsurprisingly missed the point.
And wouldn’t it have made more sense to put this one alongside the one assuring us she won’t freak out if we try to pay for her cheap tea?
8. She will debate anyone she meets who says they aren’t a feminist or expresses anti-feminist sentiments. It might be your dumb-dumb friends, it might be a random guy who said something shitty at a bar we’re at, but it could happen. I never pick fights with anyone, but I’m also not afraid to calmly call someone out for saying something bigoted and frankly, you shouldn’t be either.
Not putting money on her debating skills, especially given that she immediately assumes any non-feminist must be an idiot. Also, note: “I never pick fights with anyone, but I’ll insult and attack anyone who says something I don’t agree with, even if he’s a stranger.” And she expects you to do the same, or else she’ll think you’re a coward.
9. You’d better be aware of what male privilege is and that you have it. One time my guy friend said to me, “Oh man, male privilege sounds nice. Wish I had some of that. Haha,” and I almost threw him across the room. It’s real. If you’re a guy, you have it. Next topic.
A summarized version of this and the previous entry are “you had better not challenge or question anything I believe, however asinine.”
Notice how she boasts of being completely infuriated when a man dared to say that his own experience doesn’t match her pre-conceived beliefs. She then bluntly declares “all men have privilege” and moves on. This despite spending most of this article detailing how she doesn’t think men have the right to disagree with her on anything.
10. Any lingering anti-feminist beliefs you may still have can and will be challenged. And rightfully so. Ideally, you’d just take an interest in feminism on your own because everyone should, but if you’re going to be dating me, I’m definitely going to call you on the bullshit you may knowingly or unknowingly still say from time to time. Thank her for this. She’s going to save you from making a horrible rape joke in public (aka making any rape joke in public.)
So, she’s going to snap at you for saying something she doesn’t agree with, you are not allowed to answer back (see previous two entries), and you ought to thank her for that.
Also, note the assumption that either you kow-tow to being corrected on every minor violation of feminist orthodoxy or you’ll “make a horrible rape joke in public.” There is nothing in between.
11. She’s happy to teach you about feminism if you’re happy to learn. If you think Beyoncé can’t dance in a revealing outfit and call herself a feminist, you are wrong, but I’m happy to explain to you why that is if you actually want to know. Why? Because I like you.
Again (this is about the third time the same point is made), “shut up, stop thinking, and swallow whatever nonsense I tell you and be grateful for it.” Note the patronizing and patently false “because I like you. You’re stupid and pliable and do what I say, so I like you.”
12. Never, ever, ever tell her about how men are discriminated against too. This isn’t a competition for which gender had been treated more unfairly, but if it were, women will win every time.
Love that; “this isn’t a competition, so just admit you lose.”
Yet again, she’s insisting that you should never challenge her beliefs or point out any inconvenient facts or allow your own experiences to contradict her precious theory. She doesn’t even want to hear about anyone else’s challenges or hardships: just shut up and listen to her problems (or, more likely, the problems of other people that she’s read about and applied to herself). Yours don’t count.
And as noted with number two, the logical progression in this list is terrible; she jumps all over the place. This should probably have gone right after the one about ‘privilege.’
13. If you seriously believe we’re all equal and feminism is unnecessary, keep walking. Also, what are you even doing with your life? Clearly it is not “reading literally any news website.”
The really funny thing is that she thinks ‘not reading literally any news website’ is a reason to question what someone is doing with their life. There is nothing better in life than feminism (sounds like an exaggeration now, but just wait), and life has no meaning if you are not obsessing over it.
14. She really, truly believes in equality for all.Feminists are the most amazing people on the planet because we believe in equality for all genders, races, sexual orientations, you name it.
(“What? No, unborn children don’t count. Why would you even ask that?”)
Seriously, would you want to date someone who believed anything less? No? Then it’s good that you picked me.
Let me just repeat that:
“Feminists are the most amazing people on the planet because we believe in equality for all genders, races, sexual orientations, you name it.”
Ah, so feminists are “the most amazing people on the planet” because of something they believe? All you have to do is to believe in the right things and that makes you better than everyone else?
So, feminists who ‘believe’ in the correct things and write articles about it are more amazing than, say, Marines laying down their lives for people they don’t even know?
More amazing than the Missionaries of Charity ministering to dying children in the poorest regions of the world?
More amazing than scientists making biomechanical arms for amputees?
I guess so. For the feminist it’s “I thank thee, myself, that I am not like other people. I believe in equality.”
Hell, the Pharisee in the parable was more amazing than that. He at least had actual works to boast of.
This reinforces the idea that Leftism is the true heir to Puritanism: same principles, just applied differently. What you believe, not what you do, determines what kind of person you are. Only in this case, rather than the glorious truth of the Gospel, the saving faith is the asinine speculations of self-righteous academics high on Marx.
Also, note the claim of belief in equality for all, despite the fact that most of this list has been variations on telling men that they have no right to question feminism, cite their own experiences, or even get annoyed when feminists attack the things they care about. I wonder what this writer’s views on double standards might be?
But the most disturbing thing about this whole essay is the fact that she evidently doesn’t realize just how unpleasant, arrogant, and self-righteous she comes across as. Several entries are dedicated to telling men that their own experiences and hardships do not matter to her mind, and that they need to shut up and be grateful when she ‘corrects’ them or tears down something they care about. And her entire justification for all of this, and why she evidently expects men to want to date her, is that she has the correct beliefs.
This is why I would recommend men being very careful about dating self-described feminists. Not so much for the content of their beliefs (though the ‘my ability to compete in the workplace justifies killing my own children’ thing is, shall we say, a stumbling block) as for the way so many of them seem to think that their views give them the right to be as cruel, capricious, and rude as they like. So many feminists seem to think that men have no right whatever to so much as question their views or even to talk about their own hardships. Men have ‘privilege,’ you see, so their struggles, experiences, and observations do not count. But if you dispute anything the feminist says, that means you’re ‘dismissing the experience of women’ and ‘mansplaining.’
Basically, feminist ideology encourages women to be simultaneously hyper-focused on their own grievances while dismissive of any that the man might have, and to make utterly unreasonable claims regarding what the man can and cannot say or do. I don’t even have to cite examples, because this attitude is fully on display in the above list, not only undisguised but held up as something the writer is proud of. Whatever the justification behind it, and whether adopted by men or women, this kind of attitude is deadly to relationships.
I don’t care about social structures or ingrained power systems: it is not unreasonable to ask that you act like a decent human being.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if ‘equality’ means anything, it means the same rules of conduct apply to all. That means you don’t get to simply dismiss someone because you think he has ‘privilege,’ and that you don’t get to be rude because someone else who shares a chromosome with you was treated unfairly at some point (or even because you yourself were once treated unfairly. It’s called being human).
It also means that when you write a repulsively self-righteous piece like this, you get called on it.
Latest essay is up at ‘The Federalist,’ this one on ‘Incedibles 2.’
Aside: there seems to be a lot of, shall we say, competing opinions on this film. I’ll say for my part I really liked it; it’s not in the same league as the original, and it has some very notable problems (I’ve heard they were on a hard deadline, which certainly is reflected in the film, but is kind of weird considering people have been asking for this movie for a decade-and-a-half), but it’s still very cool, very funny, and filled with, I think, very positive ideas. So, I recommend it.
Definitely see it before reading my essay if you don’t want spoilers.
The movie picks up right where the original left off: with the Parr family fighting the Underminer. The battle goes sideways, which destroys the public goodwill the family earned defeating Syndrome in the first film. As a result, the Parrs find themselves out of work, living in a motel, and without legal protection for any future superheroics.
As Bob and Helen try to decide what to do next for their family, they receive a tempting offer: a pair of billionaire siblings, Winston and Evelyn Deavor, want to hire Elastigirl to become the new public face of superheroes to gin up public support for re-legalization. This requires Helen to leave Bob in charge of the household for a few days while she does covert heroics, reversing the dynamic of the first film. Meanwhile, a mysterious new villain called “the Screenslaver” challenges the heroes.
The first “Incredibles” movie’s themes and story were as perfectly fitted as the heroes’ skintight costumes. It’s different in the sequel. Many character developments and plot threads lack satisfactory conclusions, and Mr. Incredible is particularly ill served by the story.
Yet this new film still has Brad Bird behind it, meaning it’s not just smartly written and entertaining, but also tackles some interesting ideas, especially for today. From what superficially appears to be a standard SJW storyline of female empowerment and male incompetence, the film diverges into a much more interesting, universal, and realistic set of conclusions.
Describing these will require spoilers, so I recommend you see the film before reading further. Quite apart from the characters and ideas, it’s worth the price of admission for the intensely creative superhero action scenes alone (my favorites being a backyard brawl between baby Jack-Jack and a thieving raccoon and a one-on-one fight between Violet and a new Super named Voyd).
There is a popular idea, particularly in feminist circles, that men generally want women with pretty faces, empty heads, and closed mouths.
Jane Austen thought this idea was stupid back in 1815.
Emma: “I am very much mistaken if your sex in general would not think such beauty, and such temper, the highest claims a woman could possess…I know that such a girl as Harriet is exactly what every man delights in—what at once bewitches his senses and satisfies his judgment. Oh! Harriet may pick and chuse. Were you, yourself, ever to marry, she is the very woman for you.”
Mr. Knightley: “Miss Harriet Smith may not find offers of marriage flow in so fast, though she is a very pretty girl. Men of sense, whatever you may chuse to say, do not want silly wives.” (emph. added)
You know, I’m not really a big ‘Doctor Who’ fan. I’ve watched several episodes from both the classic and the modern series (Tom Baker’s my favorite), and enjoyed them, but I just haven’t really gotten into it.
That said, I do have an opinion of this ‘making the Doctor a woman’ gimmick. And make no mistake, that’s what it is: a gimmick. It’s not a groundbreaking development, nor a brilliant twist of storytelling, and certainly not an kind of (ugh) great step forward. It’s a gimmick, pure and simple; a way to grab attention, and try to shore up their feminist credentials so that the right kind of people won’t turn on them.
I will say, in their defense, that given the nature of the Doctor, this one makes a little more sense than, say, making Thor a woman (not making that up, by the way; they actually did it) or, God forbid, making James Bond a woman (more on that below). The Doctor of course periodically regenerates into a new body and personality, so you could argue this works given the rules of the story. But…no. Even with a character like the Doctor you need some continuity of personality, so suddenly switching him to being a woman just doesn’t work. You can’t fundamentally alter a character in that way, even one like the Doctor and expect people to be happy about it, especially when it’s accompanied by insulting accusations of misogyny (because the only way the Left knows how to argue is ad hominem).
It’s a similar problem to Ghostbusters: on paper, a new all-female team of Ghostbusters actually isn’t a bad idea. But one, it was so obvious they were doing it as a ‘statement’ rather than because they actually cared about the characters, and two, the execution was horrible beyond belief.
The real problem with this practice of switching a character’s sex in an attempt to be ‘relevant’ or whatever the current term is, is that it’s basically the equivalent of swiping one kid’s toy because another kid is crying that she wants more, when the obvious thing to do would be to just buy her some toys of her own rather than stealing someone else’s. To the fans of the Doctor who have stuck by him all these long years, having him drastically altered in this way to appease non-fans must seem like a complete slap in the face. Now, if they came up with a really cool female Time Lord and gave her a spin-off show, and did it well (that’s really the key to any story: doing it well), the fans would eat it up. It has nothing to do with misogyny: it has everything to do with seeing a beloved character twisted to score political points.
It’s even more galling when you consider that the other kid has lots of toys of her own, but keeps menacing her brother’s.
The days (assuming such days existed: this topic invites selective blindness like few others) of a lack of female heroes is long over. Women headline about half the shows on TV. Wonder Woman just came out and was fantastic. Marvel fans have been clamoring for a Black Widow movie for years. The last two Star Wars films were headed by women. There’s obviously a huge market for well-done female leads, so there’s absolutely no need to co-opt existing male characters.
The only reason, as far as I can see, for trying to swipe male characters and turn them female is because they generally have better name recognition. So, certain people think “everyone knows who James Bond is, so if we turned him into a woman (Jean Bond?) we’d have a ready-made super-popular female icon!”
Except it doesn’t work that way, since male and female characters are typically written and characterized very differently. One of the reason Wonder Woman was such a good film is that she was written as a very feminine character. Yes, she could throw tanks around and engage a dozen men at once, but she was also warm-hearted, kind, and nurturing. Black Widow is an engaging character because she’s not just a deadly spy, but she’s also the nurturing heart of the team; the one who gives them pep talks and warm hugs when they’re feeling down. The contrast between her cold-hearted behavior on the battlefield and her warm-hearted behavior off it is what makes her so much fun to watch.
If you tried to write James Bond as a woman, it would be grotesque. No one except an obsessive feminist would want to see a woman act the way Bond acts. He’s fundamentally a male fantasy figure: the cool man of action who sleeps with every beautiful woman he meets, kills bad guys left and right, and defends king and country with his wits and sheer badassery. He works because he speaks to the male psyche. Make him a woman doing more or less the exact same thing, and it would be unbearable. Most women don’t fantasize about acting that way, and most men don’t like seeing women act like that.
Now, if they wanted to make a female equivalent of Bond: a super-competent and alluring female spy who defends queen and country with wit and moxie, and (once again) if they did a good job of it, that would be great. Female spies can be a lot of fun: just think of Honey West, Emma Peel, or, again, Black Widow to name a few. But there’s no need to coopt male characters out of a misguided feminist urge. There are already lots of good female protagonists running around, and nothing at all preventing anyone from making more. But leave established and beloved male characters alone if you don’t mind.
Recently, after hearing it praised again and again, I watched the show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. To my slight amazement, it quickly became one of my favorite animated shows. I mean, I have very broad tastes in entertainment: I can view a romantic comedy, musical, or a Disney cartoon with as much real interest and enjoyment as a John Ford film, an action flick, or a horror movie. I would think nothing of watching Aliens and Emma in the same day. Even so, I didn’t expect to fall in love with a show about magical talking ponies directed at grade school girls.
Now, my taste is fairly unique, and like I say, I have extremely cosmopolitan views when it comes to fiction: if it’s done with quality and care, and has an at least decent moral premise, I don’t care what the premise is. But I’m not alone when it comes to this show: it has a huge male fanbase, and many of them are thoroughly obsessed with it (I wouldn’t call myself a ‘Brony’ because I just think it’s a good show, but there’s a lot of other shows and stories I’m more interested in). That raises the question of why? What’s the appeal?
Part of it is sheer quality: it’s simply a very well done show with appealing animation, great characterization, intelligent writing and often gut-bustingly hilarious humor. The leads are not only all likeable, but remarkably vivid, three-dimensional characters with believable passions, virtues, flaws, and foibles, sketched with great care and skill and brought to life by some wonderful voice actresses.
Despite being aimed at younger audiences, the show actually tackles some rather complicated themes in surprisingly intelligent fashion. For instance, an early episode featuring a conflict between settlers and natives allows both sides to make good points and ends by suggesting that the natives have ultimately benefited from the spread of civilization. How many kid shows – or, heck, adult shows – do that?
So, it’s a good show; miles better than anyone would expect. But it’s still a show aimed at little girls, and there are a lot of good shows out there: why do so many grown men, like me, find it so appealing?
I don’t think we appreciate how girls come across in a lot of media, especially stories aimed at girls. There’s a sense that the story is of girls triumphing over men, and where the ideal man is one who is supportive, but otherwise content to take a secondary position. See Kim Possible, for instance, or Zootopia or Moana on the big screen. I like all those stories to a greater or lesser degree (for what it’s worth, the ranking would go Kim, Zootopia, Moana), but many of the themes found in them trouble me.
The thing is, this sort of thing is fine once in a while, but become disturbing after seeing it time and again, especially in conjunction with other, more virulently misandric attitudes that we hear all around us, from movies, shows, books, teachers, people in the news, and on and on, all talking as if women were in competition with men, that men are stupid slobs who need to just get out of the way of women, that women need men like a fish needs a bicycle.
‘Unisexuality,’ the idea that men and women are and ought to be fundamentally the same, is a very popular idea these days. We live in a time where it’s actually considered good advice to write female characters exactly the same as male characters, and considered a compliment to say that there was nothing to distinguish the heroines from the heroes. I think, having been raised on horror stories of male sexism, that most people believe it to be a compliment to women to portray them as being basically the same as men, with only trivial or superficial differences. This has become more or less the standard practice of our day; female characters are to be written as male characters, only with an extra dose of resentment from being ignored and oppressed by men. Would Moana have been fundamentally different if the lead were a young man instead of a young woman? How about Rogue One, or The Force Awakens? How many times do we have to hear the heroine complain about the male characters trying to protect her, or not listening to her, or treating her different because she’s a woman?
After a while, this ceases to be original or charming and just becomes annoying. Female characters who aggressively reject being feminine, who treat the men in their lives with brittle resentment unless they fully support them, and who are fundamentally no different from the male characters except for having a nicer shape and a chip on their shoulder eventually become a chore to sit through, even if we don’t want to say anything about it for fear of appearing sexist.
In such a world, finding a show about a group of intensely and cheerfully feminine characters who don’t act like that, who are mostly focused on their own lives, but who show no animosity towards the men around them, and who, by and large, bypass the whole question of feminism, and who are also visually appealing, well-written, and funny, comes as a breath of fresh air. Even guys who agree with feminism must get tired of it after a while and want to spend time with girls who have better things to worry about.
That’s exactly what My Little Pony gives us; intensely feminine characters who are interesting in their own right without feeling like they’re trying to one-up us guys. The characters aren’t just self-possessed, confident, and brave, but they actually have real personalities and interests that they care about for their own sakes, rather than being preoccupied with how they are perceived or what social message they’re sending. In short, it’s a series that embraces normal human emotions about the sexes; that men and women are different, and that they generally like each other that way. It does this simply by allowing its female leads to be unapologetically feminine.
For instance, you could argue that, say, Rainbow Dash is an atypical feminine character, since she’s obsessed with sports and winning, but the way she’s written is that she cares about excelling for it’s own sake, not for the sake of being a ‘woman who excels.’ Significantly, she has just as much admiration for men who excel as for women. Besides which, Rainbow’s a tomboy, but she’s still feminine; she enjoys gets dressed up for a fancy party, coos over adorable creatures, and occasionally showcases her nurturing side. The point is, she’s still clearly a girl, even though she’s a highly competitive athlete.
Another thing I don’t think we appreciate enough is how much guys like girls as girls: that uniquely feminine flavor to personality, attitude, and perspective. It’s at once mysterious, amusing, and charming, but in the rush to make girls ‘strong’ I think a lot of female characters have lost their particular girlish charm. So, when it is used, it has all the appeal of relief.
This particular appeal stands out especially strong here, where the characters are completely de-sexualized (not that that’s stopped some people in this day and age, but never mind that now). They’re cute, and we accept that they are meant to be attractive ‘in context,’ but it’s their personalities that are the main source of their appeal. The sheer girlishness (not to be confused with ‘girliness’) of the characters, untainted by either the bitterness of feminism or the crudity of sexual desire, stands out in all its beauty.
In other words, the show gives its male fans something they don’t get very often in today’s world: a chance to spend time with unashamedly feminine girls who are perfectly comfortable in their own skin and who don’t have any kind of grudge against their male counterparts. The male characters are almost all relegated to secondary roles, but that’s simply because that’s the kind of story it is, not because they’re being deliberately sidelined or subordinated. The heroines get along fine with their male co-stars, unless there’s a real reason they shouldn’t.
For instance, when, in an early episode, Applejack argues with her brother about whether she can handle the harvest herself while he’s recovering from an injury, it’s not because he’s a boy and she’s a girl, but because she’s stubborn and proud, while he’s more level-headed and practical. Amazingly enough, the whole ‘sexism’ issue is completely bypassed in favor of a more universally applicable lesson about not letting pride lead you to bite off more than you can chew. This isn’t just more enjoyable, but it’s better writing, making Applejack a three-dimensional character with believable flaws rather than a bland ‘strong woman’ roll-model. Again, the show gives us well-written and cheerfully girlish female characters without imposing tedious feminist shibboleths.
The show gives us this, plus engaging and well-crafted storylines, plus vivid and memorable characters, plus intelligent writing, plus some side-splitting humor, plus catchy music and appealing animation.
No wonder it’s so popular.
It’s a fairly familiar scenario: there’s a major female character in a predominantly male cast. She feels constantly overshadowed by the male characters, who by contrast seem to have all the advantages that she lacks; they can get away with anything, do anything they like, and receive almost universal praise, while she has to struggle and fight to achieve her goals, which seem always cruelly beyond her reach. Feeling frustrated and ignored, she sets out to prove that she is every bit as good as the men around her.
As I say, a pretty standard set up…except that, in this case, the girl is the antagonist and her attempts to one-up the male characters are presented as wrong-headed and ridiculous.
I hope everyone’s familiar with the show Phineas and Ferb, which aired on Disney from 2007 to 2015. At first glance, it doesn’t seem like much: weird-looking kids perform wacky stunts in their backyard while their bratty older sister tries to tattle on them to their parents and their secret-agent pet platypus battles an evil scientist. It seems at once too weird, too generic and thoroughly childish, especially when you learn that practically every episode features a musical number.
But first impressions can be deceiving. In truth, it’s a smart, hilarious, and heartwarming piece of work, bursting with creativity and endless goodwill. I’ve been wanting to write about it for a while, since there’s actually a lot of meat under the cheery surface, but today I want to focus on what I see as the hilariously countercultural message of Candace’s character arc.
The Face of Modern Feminism
Candace is Phineas and Ferb’s teenage sister, whose role in the story is to endlessly attempt to reveal the boys’ activities to their mother, only to inevitably fail at the last second (their mother is basically the only person in town who doesn’t know what they’ve been up to and dismisses Candace’s stories as resulting from an over-active imagination). This is one of many running gags that are endlessly played with throughout the series.
Her reason for continually trying to get her brothers in trouble is, more or less, because she’s jealous. Not so much of what they do, which she is at pains to dismiss as being childish and stupid, but of the fact that they get so much attention for it, while somehow never getting into trouble for breaking the rules (“Hi, Mom! I’m digging up the Northwest United States! You okay with that?!”). In other words, her envy stems, not from the fact that Phineas and Ferb can build a rollercoaster in the backyard over the course of a morning and she can’t, but just from the fact that they’re successful: that they’re more popular and admired than she is, that they excel at whatever they try while she doesn’t, and, most of all, that they never get caught. To that end, she will endure anything if only she can one-up her brothers just once and prove that they’re not as cool as everything thinks.
In all this, she’s missed the simple fact that…it’s not a competition. Though she’s continually trying (and failing) to outshine them, Phineas and Ferb aren’t trying to outshine her, or anyone else; they’re just doing what interests them. “We don’t do this to compete,” Phineas tells Candace in one episode. “We do it for fun!” (“And for the ladies,” Ferb adds). That’s the point: there is no conflict except in Candace’s mind.
Far from seeking to overshadow their sister, Phineas and Ferb actually admire Candace and want her to participate. They’re always inviting her along on their escapades and providing her with the means to join them (“We built [that rocket ship] for Candace; I don’t know why she took ours”). But Candace would rather show up the boys and spoil their fun than actually partake of it herself. As far as she’s concerned, the mere fact that Phineas and Ferb are involved immediately taints the activity for her.
Candace is focused on the personal aspect; she really, really wants to be able to one-up her brothers by ‘busting’ them to their mother, just to show that they aren’t as great as everyone thinks and (in her mind) make herself look better by comparison. Phineas and Ferb, on the other hand, are focused on the actual activity itself. The important thing to them isn’t who does it, or who’s better at it, or any of that nonsense; the important thing is simply that it gets done.
This dynamic is showcased in an early episode centering on their mom’s birthday. Candace once again sees it as an opportunity to outshine her brothers, refusing to help them with their preparations, growling about who has ‘won’ each part of the day, and even going so far to sign her card, “The child who loves you best.” Meanwhile, Phineas and Ferb culminate their multimedia birthday celebration by playing the song Candace wrote and inviting her up on stage to sing it live. Again, they don’t care who does what, just so long as their mother has a nice birthday.
Now, Candace goes through a lot over the course of four seasons, yet the show makes it abundantly clear that, to put it bluntly, it’s pretty much all her own fault. If she’d only let go of her petty jealousy and loosened up a little, she would be much happier, more relaxed, and be spared the numerous mishaps that she’s subjected to. In fact, on the odd occasion where she’s either cooperating with the boys or going on her own adventure, she tends to be very successful and to have a good time to boot. But, rather than learning to lighten up a little, she persists in her Sisyphean quest to ‘bust’ her brothers and so keeps bringing disaster down upon her own head.
This all should sound pretty familiar: it’s the attitude most self-styled feminists adopt. It’s the notion that men and women are in opposition, that men are the oppressors of women and that women must do whatever they can to escape the shadow of ‘the patriarchy.’ When, actually, most men (at least in the West) rather like women and want them to succeed at whatever they’re interested in.
For one particularly silly example, we hear a lot from feminists how we need to get more girls interested in STEM fields. They decry the ‘gender imbalance’ in such things, and in pretty much everything else where there’s difference between men and women (unless, of course, the women have the better share). Like Candace trying to outshine her brothers, though, this misses the whole point; it focuses on who is doing it rather than on what they’re doing.
If a girl wants to go into science, technology, or what have you because she’s interested in the subject, that’s awesome, and she should definitely be encouraged to do so, but because it’s a worthwhile endeavor in itself; not because her doing so will add a checkmark to someone’s imaginary ledger. If she’s going into the field to close the ‘gender gap,’ then frankly she’d be much better off doing something else: something she’s interested in for its own sake. No occupation or field of study is helped by anyone (male or female) who gets involved with an eye towards correcting social ratios, only by those who care about the subject itself (i.e. I’m sure Amelia Earhart would have wanted to fly even if every other aviator on Earth at the time were a woman).
You see, when someone sets out to do anything with an eye towards the societal aspect, her attention has, for that very reason, been taken off the thing itself and placed on an abstract social image. Most people (men and women) in whatever field she’s involved in will find this annoying, because their focus is on the work itself while she’s preoccupied with what the work means for her and her idea of society. This is what will make her unwelcome: the fact that no group of people likes it when someone who isn’t really interested in their subject imposes herself on them, even less if she’s doing it to make some kind of point.
More to the point, if you’re trying to go into space, would it make any difference to you who designed your rocket, as long as it worked properly? When Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon, was anyone thinking about how many women versus how many men made that possible? Would that achievement have been any more outstanding if there had been an equal proportion of men and women at NASA?
As all this indicates, I think a lot of modern feminism is a big fuss over nothing: people who get furiously competitive over a conflict as imaginary as Candace’s rivalry with her brothers. Because, let me say it again, the ‘gender gap’ doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter who is doing the job, as long as the job is done well, and it doesn’t matter how many women or men are in any given field, as long as those who are genuinely care about their subject and know what they’re doing.
Candace is, in fact, living out a broad and, today, very popular worldview: that it is the identity of the person doing the act that matters; not the act itself. To her, the fact that her brothers are doing these things are what is important: her brothers who constantly overshadow her, who can get away with anything, and who are just so annoying. The fact that what they’re doing is amazing, fun, and often beneficial to others is secondary.
By contrast, Phineas and Ferb are focused on the act itself. They are close to the position described in The Screwtape Letters: of being able to design the best roller coaster in the world, know it is the best, and rejoice in that fact, and yet be just as happy if someone else were to design it instead. If Candace went out and built her own supersonic jet or a skyscraper to the Moon, Phineas and Ferb would just think that was awesome. Any reservations they would have would be based on the fact that they would have liked to have done that cool thing themselves, but the idea that they would object because their big sister is trying to overshadow them, or because she’s a girl, would simply sound weird to them.
Most people today (at least in the west) see nothing at all strange in the idea of women doing great things. We’ve been taught feminism all our lives and raised on a steady diet of tales of female empowerment. But, for that same reason, we find demands for perfect parity between men and women in all things to be childish and silly. Nothing seriously excludes a woman from pursuing pretty much any job she wants: why not just let her do what she wants and stop stressing over who does what? It’s not a competition, after all.
Candace’s urge to ‘bust’ her brothers is ridiculous because one, it’s obvious the effort she puts into it is ludicrously out of proportion to any kind of payoff she could receive, and two, because her rivalry with the boys only exists in her own mind. It’s funny, because she’s driving herself past the point of human endurance in pursuit of a purely symbolic victory that no one but herself cares about, much like current-wave feminists spend millions of dollars and countless hours of time advocating for things that either they already have (i.e. equal pay) or which simply don’t matter (i.e. the ratio of men and women in any given field). Candace herself, in her better moments, understands that her whole crusade really isn’t worth it. I only hope modern feminists might come to the same realization. I think they’d be much happier.