So today, the dude who directed the little webseries thing I filmed over the course of this year sent me this little meme.
At first I was a bit: ‘Oh look, more generic battle-of-the-sexes humour, elle owe elle’ – I’m really not into that sort of thing – but upon reflection, the ending makes it interesting.
The back-and-forth, highly gendered narrative conflict between the ‘male’ and ‘female’ students is a conflict of legitimacy and representation. Whose story is more valuable, more viable? Rather than attempting to work together, each party barrels forward with an extremely normative presentation of gender, and gender expectation – girls are into romance and domestic drama, boys are into action and the fantastical. Not particularly imaginative, and very reductive across the gender board. It embodies the constant struggle between male and female voices to be heard and taken seriously, and although it does not have anything to say about which voice tends to come out on top, the use of genre is very telling – women get more recognition if they weave narratives, fictional or otherwise, of romance and domesticity, while men get theirs from narratives of adventure and flights of fancy, sky-high ambition to the point of absurdity.
But it’s the ending that really stuck with me. The ‘teacher’ gives the ‘collaboration’ an A+ grade, remaking that they ‘really like’ the end result. Said teacher is, of course, male (and a professor). What is it that he likes, exactly? The story? I don’t think so.
But the story of the writers? The narrative conflict?
Considering representations of gender and the way certain narratives, in mainstream media, are ascribed to heteronormative masculine and feminine gender codes, I can’t help but see this A+ as an approval of the status quo, where men and women are always at each other’s throats, where the nuances of lived experience is split neatly down the middle to allow for no overlap, to have men and women Othering one another, in life and literature alike. And particularly in literature, and perhaps especially given the large amount of YA I’ve been reading of late, I can’t help but link this meme back to the gendered narratives of City of Bones, The Hunger Games and Vampire Academy. And just the way gender is coded in literature that is marketed to the masses, that is intended to appeal to the largest audience for the most profit. It’s split down the middle, with boys and girls set up to oppose each other’s lived experiences like we have the idea of dogs and cats as natural opposites. And it’s just as ridiculous. Men and women are ‘natural opposites’ as much as bumblebees and pineapples. And it is the constant reinforcement and legitimisation of narratives of codified difference, taking what are, in many cases, shared experiences and tethering them to either side of a conceptual divide, that gives us the narrative landscape we have today.
A case in point here is the webseries Emma Approved. I am not at all sure about the show – I like it, but not for the reasons I’m meant to, and certainly not because I think it’s good. But the gender dynamics drive me insane. We’ve got Emma, who is cartoonishly narrow-minded and actually really toxic and privilege-blind in her abuse of Harriet, not a peer this time but an employee who is materially dependent on Emma’s approval of her. And then we’ve got Knightley, who is the moral centre, the voice of reason, and he’s been set up to be so obviously in the right, so utterly without fault, so face-palmingly perfect – it’s quite despicable. These were similar problems that I had to the Gigi arc in the LBD, the dynamic between her and Darcy (a total counterpoint to the incredibly awesome relationship crafted between Lydia and George, for instance), and it is this kind of ‘men are from mars, women are from venus’ dichotomous representation of gender that the meme reminds me of. The meme has no obvious gender critique agenda that I can see, but it still points out the problems of gender normativity in the narratives we all live within and interact with, whether we reproduce or subvert them individually.
(On a side note: I am compiling a list of books to review for next year, and the Twilight saga has just found a place there. Because for all that I hate the hideous gender stuff and moral bankruptcy of those books, I only feel that way in retrospect. I feel I need to read them again and get a better sense of how I actually feel about them. And who knows? Maybe there will be some redeeming factors there. So that’ll be right after Artemis Fowl. Or before, perhaps, seeing as I don’t have the last book yet.)