Imagine two characters.
One of them is a white dude. The other is a woman who may also be of color and/or LGBTQ. Both of them are doing dirt that involves morally dubious activities such as murder, theft, lying, abuse of power, or just being a jerk.
Guess which one is called bitch, evil, crazy, whore and stupid. Guess which one is interpreted as a layered portrayal of the complexities of human nature.
Yeah, thought so.
Why do you think that is?
Here is the point where I would prove how intelligent and articulate I am and give a long, drawn-out, non-threatening explanation without using scary words that end in “-ism” and “-phobia.”
But I didn’t make Ars Marginal just so I can beat around the bush and coddle people’s fee fees when the sure don’t give a crap about mine when they perpetuate this garbage.
Why does this phenomenon exist? Why does it happen so much?
Because sexism and misogyny, that’s why. With an added layer of racism, homophobia, transphobia, and/or ableism, depending on the woman in question.
“RVCBard, are you saying that sexism is the reason why people call Regina evil and crazy and say nothing about Rumplestiltskin?”
“Are you saying that people call Cersei a bitch or a whore while not saying a thing about all the men doing the same dirt is just because of misogyny?”
Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m saying.
Rather than waste my time trying to convince people that gender does have something to do with this, I want to give people who already have a clue a little something to work with.
The first is what I’m calling the Walter White Sliding Scale of Sympathetic Villainy. You can check out Breaking Bad for yourself on Netflix or Hulu or whatever. The basic premise of the show is a chemist and family man who quits teaching to manufacture crystal meth. Despite this, he is the protagonist. The audience is meant to sympathize with him and, in many cases, root for him to be successful at manufacturing one of the world’s most addictive and harmful narcotic substances.
So when you find yourself disapproving of or repulsed by a female character, ask yourself: does she make crystal meth?
I mean this quite literally. I don’t care if crystal meth doesn’t even exist in the setting of the story. The question is the same: does she make crystal meth?
If you find yourself unable to sympathize with or relate to the humanity of a female character despite her wrongdoing, and she’s not making crystal meth, you need to examine your gender baggage.
That’s not to say you have to like or love every female character, or every portrayal of a female character, to avoid being sexist or misogynist. It does, however, mean you pay attention to gender, and not just to dismiss the likelihood of your responses to a female character reflecting the same sexism and misogyny that is part of the social atmosphere we breathe.
The question is not whether gender impacts how you respond to a female character, but how.
The second is what I’m naming the Tony Soprano Litmus Test for Morally Dubious Main Characters. I don’t think I need to introduce Tony Soprano or explain what The Sopranos is. But for the purpose of this post, I’ll just describe Tony Soprano as a mob boss who does mob boss stuff in the gritty, grimy real world instead of in glamorized Hollywood films.
The Tony Soprano Litmus Test for Morally Dubious Main Characters is pretty straightforward. If you see a female character doing something morally dubious, and you are about to call her bitch, evil, crazy, stupid, whore, etc.: STOP. Ask yourself: did I say this when Tony Soprano did it?
Even if you’ve never watched a single episode of The Sopranos, you know how popular the show is and how the lead character is a guy who has murdered people in cold blood, had people murdered on his orders, cheated on his wife a lot, treated women like crap, and didn’t like Black folks all that much either. A deeply flawed man who makes horrible life choices with varying degrees of remorse, or lack thereof. Tony Soprano was no saint, but people loved him or at least cared what happened to him anyway.
So if you see yourself labeling female characters in these simplistic ways, but had nothing to say about Tony Soprano, you need to examine your gender baggage.
When Tony Soprano betrayed people, when Tony Soprano killed in cold blood, when Tony Soprano did messed up mob boss things, nobody came out their mouth with how evil or crazy he was. When Tony Soprano had panic attacks, he wasn’t called weak, and he wasn’t called whiny when he went to therapy.
But when a female character does the same dirt that he did, she’s an Evil Crazy Bitch Cunt Whore. When she shows vulnerabilities like Tony Soprano does, she’s Weak Whiny Stupid Useless Just Go Away Already.
As I said before, you don’t have to like a character who makes a habit of doing morally dubious or just plain nasty things. That said, it’s always a good idea to look at how gender impacts the way we respond to characters who do things that are morally dubious or just plain messed up. Because if it’s “understandable” when a man does it but “unforgivable” when a woman does it, there is something to unpack there.