Nov 07 2011

And another thing I’m sick of

On NPR the other day some interviewer — I forget which one — was interviewing some novelist — I forget which one — about the novelist’s new novel — I forget which one. The interviewer was a woman, the novelist was a woman, and the novel was about some women.

“How difficult was it,” asked the interviewer, “to write strong women characters?”

My bitter, mirthless laugh drowned out the author’s earnest reply. Because:

“So, Mr Chaucer/Joyce/Hemingway/Virtually Any Other Male Author In The History Of English And American Literature, how difficult was it to write strong men characters?”

It’s a given, not a talk show topic, that strong male characters will inhabit any given work of regular fiction. Dude characters have their requisite flaws, but they’re fully drawn and interesting because men are popularly conceived to already be strong enough to have books written about them. In fact, the word “strong” never prepends the word “man” in American English unless the topic is circus acts. But in recent literature, film, TV, and blogs, the Strong Woman has emerged as a thing, an archetype.

What are the components of this strong woman character?

In some cases, perhaps, they are the same components as any other well-written character. But in the popular imagination, the Strong Woman is the one-dimensional composite of post-feminist megatheocorporatocratic marketing: tough but feminine, fighty, a little mouthy, indomitable in the face of adversity, but ultimately heterosexual and predominantly concerned with relationships. Always, at her core, is that reassuring lump of insecurity that ends up making her life about men. She is the latest addition to the cluster of popular stock characters infesting the literary canon: the harridan, the voluptuary, the madwoman in the attic, the girl next door, the cipher, the virgin, the nag, the mother-in-law, the mouse, the shrew, and the spinster aunt.

Because she is a femininity affirmation device, the Strong Woman is never strong in the sense that she actually seeks actual liberation. For instance, she never says, “to hell with this funfeminism crap, I’m blowing off the beauty mandate and challenging patriarchal oppression.” She just holds her head up and conquers breast cancer or earns that big promotion, and is enriched by the experience, and then has a relationship with a dude.

Enough with the “strong woman” designation, already. All women are “strong.” If we’re not strong, we’re dead.


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  1. Discombobulated

    “But in the popular imagination, the Strong Woman is the one-dimensional composite of post-feminist megatheocorporatocratic marketing: tough but feminine, fighty, a little mouthy, indomitable in the face of adversity, but ultimately heterosexual and predominantly concerned with relationships, and always, at her core, that reassuring lump of insecurity that ends up making her life about men. ”

    Concise precis!

    This is why I stopped reading urban fantasy. The main heroine template does not deviate from the above. Ugh.

    It’s also apparently the main heroine template for all those gritty crime TV shows running these days. Which is why I don’t watch….well, television.

    She’s gritty!

    She’s strong!

    She’s tough!

    She has ATTITUDE!

    She’s SEXY!

    She’s terribly emotionally scarred from some horrific childhood trauma!

    She has absolutely no sense of humor whatsoever!

    Will she get together with the hunky/geeky/dreamy fellow cop/doctor/detective/whatever?

    Oh my God WILL SHE????

    I for one will not be around to find out.

  2. AlienNumber

    oooh, was it that NPR lady who-never-interviews-women-if-she-can-help-it chatting with Joan Didion about her latest novel? The old lady is speaking tonight somewhere near me and I’m going to listen to her. Live! Can’t wait.

    The lobe was blown though reading the meager number of comments for the NYT review for her latest book. The second commenter made sure to point out how brave it is of this almost 80 y.o. EXTREMELY ACCOMPLISHED lady to — this necessitates an ellipse, but okay — show her wrinkled face in public.

    I also appreciate the fact that she allows herself to be photographed in a way that makes her look visibly old. For a woman, that’s pretty gutsy.

    Listen up, ladies! Make sure to grow old and then show your haggard faces in public, and you too can win the Purple Medal for Bravery.

  3. Notorious Ph.D.

    Standing up and cheering wildly at that last paragraph.

    I think Tina Fey said something about “crazy” being used to define a woman who keeps talking even after no one wants to fuck her? That may go for strong women, too.

  4. KittyWrangler

    @Discombobulated: Ha! Add one sexy, quirky, sexy, somewhat wisecracking sexy lady (preferably with red hair) to the crime team who can keep your humorless heroine in a state of defense, and you have a “strong female cast.”

    It helps if the strong female cast is constantly in orbit around a grizzled older male with distinctive hair and genius talent who behaves like a self-centered asshole even in the most inappropriate of times.

    Thanks Twisty. This will help bolster my argument that resulted from my mother asking how I can be frustrated with the mendacity of mainstream media when they are reporting factually accurate material. I pointed out that they’re always asking the wrong questions; I will tuck this blog post in the back of my mind for the next time I visit her.

  5. MPMR

    Don’t forget that even though she has accomplished much in her career, she still has that pang of longing for a traditional het family unit. No Nobel Prize or job as chief of police can overcome that.

  6. ChariD

    It’s never called “Men’s” basketball or baseball or whatever-ball, either. It’s just called Basketball, Baseball or whatever-ball. But it sure as hell is always labeled “Women’s” basketball, baseball or whatever-ball if female people are the athletes. Why? So we know that the women’s version is just an inferior knock-off of the real thing?

    Sorry; it’s slightly off-topic, but it was close enough for me to want to spew.

  7. Sarah

    And very very often, stories that have “strong” women characters in them are written in such a way as to showcase how wrong, wrong, WRONG their “strong-making” decisions are. Like the rom-com where the (clearly misguided) career woman eventually discovers, LO!, that the work she’s dedicated her life to is not, in fact, nearly as important as the love and affection of that hunky dudebro in accounting! Or the action-adventure where the childless woman, in a misguided attempt to save her own life, reconsiders after gazing into the moralizing eyes of our well-muscled hero, only to go back and perform some b*s self-sacrificial ritual in order to save some doe-eyed schoolchildren. Gag me.

  8. Sarah

    Oh, and: Say what you will about Joss Whedon’s feminist credentials (or lack thereof, depending on your perspective), but this is righteously a propos.

  9. susanw

    There can be no Strong Female Character with the possibility of a “love interest”, because she is relegated to the Penetrated Caste. Under P., the fuckee, even a potential fuckee, is a weak, conquered loser.
    In the 70’s (I am a very old RadFem) we did interesting consciousness raising through theatrical productions using gender reversal. The stupid sexism and misogyny is blatant when one sees Hamlet, King Claudius, Polonius, Laertes, R & G, etc. enacted by and as women, and Gertrude and Ophelia as men. The point was not to attack particular works, but to introduce a way of looking at everything from TV commercials to high culture. Imagine the male leads of today as women. How popular would Dr. Greta House be if she acted like just like Gregory?

  10. K.A.

    There could be no Dr. Greta House because the entire character is predicated on a white male living out the White Male Fantasy: to be as misogynist, racist, sexually harassing, and all-around abusive as he wants, because he is a revered Tortured Genius(TM) (that thing no woman or black person is allowed to be), whose abilities are so special and important that he may rise above the unjust law of the impotent PC police (read: civility, humanity, etc.).

    The moral of the story is that -isms constrain white male greatness, constraints from which only those white males who are the mostest whitemalest may transcend by virtue of the greatness imparted by the powerful cockiness (SEE WHAT I DID THERE?!) of white maleness.

  11. K.A.

    Forgot to add: that’s an interesting exercise in exposing literary misogyny, susanw. House is a perfect example of how the role reversals are ridiculous.

  12. J.K.

    Why does she write strong female characters in fiction? Because strong, fully fleshed out females don’t exist in reality. I’m not trying to troll, I just want to point out how bullshit the designation of “strong” is.

  13. susanw

    You nailed it. The TM is the ultimate whitemale rebel, screaming at the top of his Giant Baby lungs that Mommy can’t tell him what to do.
    Another effective technique before the Great Backlash was corporate conscious raising, that is, sexism sensitivity training for executives by actual feminists. The trainers set the men three small tests upon which they were graded. By the end of the second test, the men were demanding to know the criterion, because their scores didn’t change. Some began cooperating instead of competing (‘cause women like that stuff, right?), but still they did no better or worse. At last the bathing trunks were pulled out for the swimsuit competition. The men categorically refused to go on with the exercise, and still, STILL had to be told that they were being judge on appearance, not performance, the whole time.

  14. Linden

    One of the criticisms I often hear from men (and some women) in these discussions is that women characters that have “agency” can’t be stereotypes, agency being defined as “making decisions.” As opposed to, I guess, the heroine who is tied down to the railroad tracks by the mustachioed villain and saved by the broad-shouldered hero. So anything less than complete helplessness is defined as “strong,” which of course would be a laughable standard if applied to a man.

    But au contraire! There are as many stereotypical women characters as leaves on a tree, as this chart handily shows: http://www.overthinkingit.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/Overthinking-It-Female-Character-Flowchart.png.

  15. Fede

    First K.A. nailed it, and then you nailed it some more, susanw.
    Thank you both!

  16. Fabulous Monster

    I’d be shocked if you hadn’t seen this, Jill, but just because it’s apropos: Kate Beaton’s Strong Female Characters can and should be found at http://harkavagrant.com/index.php?id=311

  17. Saurs

    Linden! That flowchart!

  18. Kea

    Well, I’ll be damned, you’re surely right! As a main character in one episode of I shouldn’t be alive, and with many spectacular mountaineering incidents to my name, once having been called The Angel of Death (yes, seriously), and a true tortured genius of theoretical physics, and more … has any man ever called me a Strong Woman in this literary sense? Um, no, never. Surprise, surprise!

    There was some promise for me when I was a younger, and a more femininely obliging character, complete with extravagant dinner parties, make up and slinky dresses. But my current assigned role is the mad woman in the attic.

  19. Deanna Zandt

    You might enjoy:

    So You’re A Female Character In A Graphic Novel. Now What?

    (well, “enjoy” isn’t really the right word, is it?)

  20. Jamila

    Enough with the “strong woman” designation, already. All women are “strong.” If we’re not strong, we’re dead.

    Good point. As a black woman, I wish more black women would take that statement to heart. While being called “strong” can be compliment, it normally means that the person speaking thinks you have put up with more sh*t that anyone should be reasonably asked to put up with you still stand there and put up with it.

  21. Kathleen


    “She’s terribly emotionally scarred from some horrific childhood trauma!”

    agggaaaaaagggghhhhh I HATE THAT ONE! it’s always either the laziest possible characterization — or, more often, an excuse to describe in creepified detail the exact (always always always sexual or sexualized) nature of that trauma in the ostensible guise of deploring it.

    anyway, right you are.

  22. speedbudget

    What kind of question is that to ask, especially by a woman of a woman?


    The answer is, VERY EASY CAUSE I JUST PUT MYSELF IN THE STORY. I mean, duh.

  23. K.A.


    Even though elements of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo were good, just as hyped, I was overall disappointed from a feminist standpoint, for reasons outlined above.(Full disclosure: I didn’t read the book, and I found the brutality, torture, and misogynist sadism of the rape/hate crime too unbearable to not fast-forward).

    It seemed too conceived and directed from the rapey male perspective, catering to the rapey male perspective. After seeing her suffer that horrifying, probably unnecessary scene, the camera didn’t waste any time subjecting the character in subsequent scenes to sexual objectification while she was vulnerable and naked. Following the traumatic rape, such treatment of the character seemed so invasive, so insensitive, dehumanizing, so misogynist, so disrespectful of her experience — I felt the audience was being cast to sexually assault her again, not to empathize with her character as a person. (Naturally. She’s female, not a person, duh!)


    That she didn’t actively do anything, but merely elected not to risk her own life to save some scumbag male, was treated as tantamount to actively inflicting vengeful murder on him according to the journalist guy. I would have found her character a lot more gratifying if she actually did actively do it herself, but she was passive, then got a scolding and a “you’re so broken that I guess I can forgive you for this otherwise bizarre act of not risking your life to save the misogynist rapist sadist murder”. Women, as per male fantasy, have to be RIDICULOUS to not upset and alienate the male audience. We have to let the male audience members enjoy her brutal rape scene, but not act in any sensible way that might make them feel threatened by her for doing something just to a violent male.


  24. keira

    Don’t forget that to be a “strong woman” character, you need to be between the ages of 14 and 34. No older, ever. Sure, you can be a tortured, heterosexual brain surgeon, or a tortured, heterosexual lawyer, or a tortured, heterosexual scientist, but only before you turn 35 or so. And only if you’re hawt (goes without saying).

    We all know there are no strong women over the age of 35, right? They hit 35 and forget everything they ever learned, every skill they formerly posessed, take up knitting and nagging their son in laws.

    susanw, both those things sound like a lot of fun (in a bitter sort of way).

  25. K.A.

    Sure, you can be a tortured, heterosexual brain surgeon, or a tortured, heterosexual lawyer, or a tortured, heterosexual scientist, but only before you turn 35 or so.

    Only if by “tortured” you mean “living in a constant state of distress and existential despair over — you guessed it! — boy problems!” Under no circumstances is “tortured” to mean “troubled genius who is too gifted for society to understand/embrace in any other capacity than honoring their mystical intellect itself.”

    “Tortured” comes in shades of shimmering pinkness and the tortured-blue seminal tones of seminal tomes, whose pages inevitably grow golder, treasured on the shelves of men’s collective libraries.

  26. crickets

    “She just holds her head up and conquers breast cancer or earns that big promotion, and is enriched by the experience, and then has a relationship with a dude.” Yes! Whatever a woman acheives, it has to be followed (and therefore topped) by a relationship with a dude. That’s the modern rhetoric – “Women, there are no barriers to what you can achieve, but we know what you really want: relationships and babies. Any barriers to your success stem purely from your own innate desire for these things.”

  27. pandechion.com

    Unless, you know, you actually *have* a baby. You don’t get to be the heroine then, either.

  28. Kea

    Crickets, yes, and that is why we truly cease to exist once we hit 35. If we can’t have babies any more, have not adopted children, or don’t run a child care centre, what useful skills could we possibly have?

  29. speedbudget

    If we can’t have babies any more, have not adopted children, or don’t run a child care centre, what useful skills could we possibly have?

    Kicking ass and taking names while nobody is looking! There’s something to be said for the Invisibility Cloak +10

  30. thebewilderness

    No matter how many times the “strong woman” character is presented in our culture, she is always presented as an anomaly.

  31. lawbitch

    Execept that the invisibility cloak doesn’t really protect you. Some how, it falls off and you’re the target of great contempt.

  32. Phledge

    Who knew I was a “strong woman” when I was 25 (and hated myself), but now that I am self-actualized and kicking ass I’m a weak old fart? The more you know, amirite?

  33. yttik

    Anybody watch “The Pastor’s Wife?” Cheesy lifetime movie about Mary Winkler. Mary was a good wife who one day out of the blue, shot her husband in the back while he was sleeping, packed up the kids, and went to the beach. Her story has fascinated me, not because I don’t understand why she did it, but because she was able to successfully explain it to a jury. She got off with manslaughter. Normally when women are driven mad and resort to violence, we lock them up forever.

    Anyway, all women are strong, unbelievably strong. It really is redundant to call somebody a “strong woman.” Even in the midst of abuse, we are strong, but sometimes being strong is a real liability, like when we tolerate things for too long. Mary was so strong her brain took over, disassociated, and did what it thought it needed to do to protect her.

  34. humanbein

    Jamila’s insight really hit a nerve for me. Part of being strong, from a male perspective, is your ability to take abuse from your “natural” superiors. WOC are especially given this patronizing backhanded compliment every time one of them dares to succeed. The US Military, an experience a few of my WOC friends know well, is really big on this, and the fact that both sexes eat this shit up doesn’t make it any more appetizing to me.

    It just proves once again that women’s liberation from sexual oppression and the very idea of dominance are intertwined.

  35. Amelia

    I am going to take this opportunity to shill for the second season of Ghost in the Shell, a show that led to my feminist awakening. It features not only Motoko Kusanagi, who is the embodiment of the ridiculous “strong female character” trope complete with accompanying male gaze, but also Prime Minister Kayabuki, who is a realistically portrayed lady head of state who takes shit from no one.

    Really though, can we get more TV and movies with actually powerful women (including, gasp, WoC)? Perhaps a UN Secretary General, a President or some more Prime Ministers? Also a General, a female military character who is not just the stock action chick, would be a nice change of pace too.

  36. AlienNumber

    Joan Didion was fantastic tonight, her voice so lovely, her insight into The Conditione Tacqueau so precise and painful. Except of course at the end the idiotic male interviewer had to ask her the dumb question: “you write so well about frailty and yet you are such a powerful woman, how do you do it”
    She wrote about the human condition, jackass! Luckily Didion didn’t lose a beat and told him she didn’t agree with the question. He turned bright red.

    Men will keep implying, but America’s Top Babushka will win this war.
    A propos de Nothing.

  37. VibratingLiz

    I would assume what the interviewer really meant was, “How difficult was it to write initially strong-looking yet still appealingly fuckable women characters, who only appeared to be “strong” (i.e., adorably tough, feisty, uppity, defiant, etc.) for a while, until they were ultimately revealed by the final plot turn to be deeply vulnerable, happily subordinate, and desperate to be rescued and loved by a man, and still make the whole nauseating thing even moderately believable?”

  38. minervaK

    Ooh, ooh! An opportunity to reference my favorite of all virtual universes, tvtropes.org. I recommend starting at “always female,” for maximum entertainage:


  39. Fannie Farmer (Mrs.)

    On the House tv show the two continuing female characters this year seem to have strength.

  40. Clio Bluestocking

    Hell yeah to all, but especially to your closing statement.

  41. Triste

    Ha! I was just this morning reading various interblag posts on this very subject, although in comic book form rather than the more hoity-toity literary style. DC Comics reboot humor never gets old. Seriously:


    Also, speaking of Ghost in the Shell! Major Kusanagi is hardly a perfect feminist figure – in particular she is physically usually portrayed as a mega-sexy, perpetually pornificated lady – but I have such a soft place in my heart for her. Particularly the movie version is just fantastic to me. In a lot of ways GITS is about resistance, which speaks to me. Kusanagi resists the limitations of her body, the imposition of male expectations for her female form, the strict rules of the militaristic organization which literally owns her body and most of her memories. If you really get into the mythos, her triumph is just beautiful and inspiring.

  42. Kaia

    This article is about something I feel we’ll never escape from. I remember when I first started writing my comic and my mother told me not all girls are strong. I was very upset at the time and gave in and created the weak female character among all my ass kicking ones. (Which apparently look to masculine.)
    Though ironically I meant for her to pretty much stay in the background, for as a young teenager at the time I hated her for being weak. Her character much to my amazement evolved, she started out as weak and a little shallow to quite a deep complex character at least to my mind.

    I guess you could say she went from fun feminist to awakened feminist.
    I guess the point is writing strong female characters isn’t the problem, its trying to break through the male lense on everything and see things for what they are.

    But personally to that interviewer I’d say it is harder writing male characters, because I don’t really know what to do with them.

    Maybe its my life coming into my writing but I feel whenever a man gets to be a “strong” character it ruins everything. With everything I watch as soon as the man comes in to it, I think its ruined now because it ends up all about him. The women get shoved in the background or end up pregnant or dead or something equally as annoying.

    So I say the problem lies with male characters, my women are awesome its the mens I have trouble writing. So they always end up on the side lines, though I am considering writing a story with only females in it, maybe unrealistic to some but to me its heaven lol

  43. Cyberwulf

    Triste, I have a soft spot for Kusanagi too, in all her incarnations. While GITS has its flaws, I like how in the films and series none of the men under Kusanagi moan about having a female commander. Also, the way big gruff Batou carries this huge torch for her, yet she’s not the least bit interested and never *becomes* interested because he ‘earns’ it. He never brings it up or pushes the issue, either. It’s a refreshing change.

  44. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    How in the hell can a woman survive in a patriarchal culture and be anything BUT strong?

  45. quixote

    Speaking about male lenses: I like writing science fiction and I’m in a writers’ group. My male characters sometimes don’t know their own minds, or exactly what to do in a situation, or they may have self-doubts.

    I was told that Guy A was too namby pamby milquetoast to hold anyone’s interest. I assumed I’d done a bad job. Next time, it was Fellow B behaving like I’ve seen men in real life behave. Same thing. “What a wuss.” The critiques from the men in the group were similar for different stories and different males x, y, z, p, and q. Until it finally hit me. Any male character who doesn’t reflect back to male readers their vision of themselves as a combination of Superman and Captain Picard is “weak.”

    Which made me wonder how these generally nice ordinary-human-being less-than-stellar guys must feel about themselves in their own heads if that’s the template. IBTP. But they couldn’t seem to get so much as a glimmering of that, even with assistance. IBTP for that, too.

  46. buttercup

    Whedon can start claiming some feminist-friendly cred when he writes his so-called strong female characters who are not B2K compliant or B2K complaint and sex workers at the same time. Fuck him.

  47. Fannie Farmer (Mrs.)

    Maybe Cain acquaintance Sharon Bialek can be Strong Woman of the Week.

  48. Agnieszka

    Considering that this is National Novel Writing Month and some of us are crazy enough to attempt this challenge of 50,000 words in 30 days, this post couldn’t be better timed. It gave me a helpful bonk in the head to make some adjustments to the characters in my shoddy, rushed novella.

  49. Doctress Ju'ulia

    And, another AMAZING post. Twisty, your writing makes me feel fuzzy inside. Yes. Yes.

    IT’S TRUE! If I wasn’t already strong, I’d be dead- like 10 times over dead. Women=STRONG.

  50. Doctress Ju'ulia

    KaPOW! XD

  51. Killerchick

    I’ve said this before, ad nauseum probably, here and elsewhere, but I’ll say it again:

    The novels about female characters who say “to hell with this funfeminism crap, I’m blowing off the beauty mandate and challenging patriarchal oppression”? The books with female characters whose stories don’t culminate in “a relationship with a dude”?

    They ain’t getting published.

  52. phio gistic

    I’ve quit reading books when it becomes apparent (usually in the first 10 pages) that the most interesting role for a woman character the author can conceive of is prostitute. I’ve dropped a dozen books this year due to this new policy. Strangely, not a single one was by a woman author.

  53. Kea

    … my mother told me not all girls are strong.

    Oh, and even though the modern neuroscience of the plastic brain allays all fear, one of the most irritating, lingering patriarchal prejudices in many feminist minds, is the horrid, sneaking suspiscion … that maybe 6000 years of selective breeding has weakened the female character.

  54. Jezebella

    I would argue, Kea, that there is no such thing as the “female character.” I’m not even sure “character” is all that meaningful an adjective when it comes to describing a human being.

  55. Kaia

    Kea thats is so true. As feminist as my mother can be, she does fall in the patriarchal traps every so often and that was one of those times.
    I just hope that one day we will no longer have to hear our characters constantly questioned.
    We’ve survived thousands of years of slavery and torture how weak can we be? we’re resilient if nothing else.

  56. Kea

    Yes, Jezebella, I agree. Inappropriate language condensation, sorry.

  57. minervaK

    I’ve quit reading books when it becomes apparent (usually in the first 10 pages) that the most interesting role for a woman character the author can conceive of is prostitute. I’ve dropped a dozen books this year due to this new policy. Strangely, not a single one was by a woman author.

    I’m sorry to inform you that women have, in fact, begun to write this crap. I think of them as sexism collaborators, in the same way funfeminists are — most likely they’ve sold out in order to get published and survive, as Killerchick so succinctly points out. Being in the process of finishing my first novel, in which the female protag isn’t B2K compliant (although she does have a sexual relationship with a dude), I really hope she’s wrong.

  58. ElizaN

    For everyone who checks here more often than news sites, the Mississippi bill failed. It was way too close, of course.

  59. hayduke

    ElizaN –

    Just saw the news, and ran here immediately to give a big thanks to Jezebella: in the great cosmic scheme of things, I feel like I owe ya a drink.

  60. Jezebella

    Thanks to you all for being here and being supportive. The Blametariat keeps me sane.

    It’s tears of joy and relief here in Buttcrack this evening. And a nice glass of bourbon.

  61. Laurie

    Whew. Sad that in the 21st century we have come to this kind of insane legal assault, and that the vote was so close. Thanks again, Jezebella and co., and drink deep. Y’all deserve it. Or is that ya’ll?

  62. Unree

    Jezebella, thanks and congratulations. I thought of you immediately when I heard the good news. Go Blametariat!

  63. Crucial D

    Oh, sh*t, Sarah, you’re so right! I have to do a paper on a woman’s travel narrative film for a class. A librarian suggested Songcatcher. What a load of crap. The plucky Dr. Penleric decides to hand over her life’s work to a dude and run off with some asshole hillbilly who’s probably going to end up beating her anyway. Gah!!!

  64. Ugsome

    Jezebella, congratulations and thank you for your hard work and commitment.

  65. speedbudget


    And grats, Jezebella and all the people who tirelessly worked against that insane bill.

  66. Lurker Lyn

    Thank you for spelling out why so many popular media products fail to tickle my biscuit. Every time you do this I feel better about my shuddering distaste, like my reactions and opinions do make sense after all.

  67. Ginjoint

    YAY!!! YAY!! YAY!!! Well done, Jezebella, and thank you! I actually dreamt last night that this bill had passed, and so I was too scared to check the news until 9 o’clock this morning. What a relief. Again, thanks Jezebella for your hard work and those who worked with you.

  68. susanw

    Thank you Jezebella. I fervently hope that the defeat in Mississippi will discourage the funders from trying it anywhere else for a while. That bill scared the hell out of me. I know men hate us. I know men and many women don’t think we’re human in the same sense men are, but Mississippi “Personhood” rubbed my nose in it.

  69. quixote

    (For some reason, I’m in moderation. Rescue, please?)

  70. Kaia

    I’m so relieved that bill didn’t go through, though im very disturbed by the amount of people for this bill.
    But lets give a huge thanks to all the feminists who helped to stop this madness.

  71. ma'am

    Quoth quixote:
    “Which made me wonder how these generally nice ordinary-human-being less-than-stellar guys must feel about themselves in their own heads if that’s the template. IBTP. But they couldn’t seem to get so much as a glimmering of that, even with assistance. IBTP for that, too.”

    That is the nut. My Nigel does not know himself very well, and therefore has trouble with normal things like processing emotions and dealing with challenges.

  72. Embee

    Well, I suppose if you judge women’s strength within the patriarchical context of “willing to disregard another’s humanity and commit atrocities in order to advance her singular objectives” or, flex her abs, I guess it WOULD be difficult (and unusual) to write “strong” woman characters.

    If, however, you assess strength from the perspective of “capacity to delay gratification and withstand millenia of systematic abuse at the hands of fathers and husbands in an effort to continue the race, protect siblings and children and ultimately work to bring change that will make humans’ presence on earth sustainable and productive” well, I have a few thousand examples for you. In other words. Not all that fucking difficult.

  73. Cyberwulf

    One can’t help but feel, looking at all the shorthand that’s used to create “strong female characters”, that “strong female character” was originally intended to mean “well-rounded, complex female character” and has since been perverted into “feisty ballbuster who’ll settle down once her past sexual trauma has been healed by the Cock of True Love” by lazy assholes who’ve never actually listened to a woman in their lives.

  74. Embee

    @ Cyberwulf that is a perfect definition of the media version of “strong female character.”

  75. yankeesumbitch

    Twisty Faster = Joan Didion on steroids

  76. Sarah

    susanw, they are already talking about putting it on the ballots of other states.


    I can’t seem to find the original article I saw, but the other states I heard about were Florida (surprise, surprise), Nevada, Ohio, Montana, and another one that I can’t remember.

  77. Jezebella

    I want to respond with “you’re welcome,” but I was only one of hundreds of people working hard to educate voters and stop Initiative 26. I can’t take credit for it, but it is nice that my hard work was appreciated. It was great to see the diversity in our phone bankers – men, women, black, white, Latin@, Asian, gay, straight, young, old, and middle-aged. There aren’t too many times you can walk into a building in Mississippi and see a whole lot of different folks all working towards the same goal. It was kind of heart-warming. In all my years of volunteering I never thought I’d find myself in the eye of a shitstorm of these proportions, and to be honest, I didn’t even think until about a week ago that we had a chance in hell of winning. Now we need to put all of this energy and coalition-building to some forward motion.

  78. Bushfire

    Thanks Jezebella and others. The defeat in Mississippi sends a message to misogynists everywhere- even the ones I fight with here in Toronto. I’m very grateful.

  79. quixote

    This may turn out to be a duplicate post, if the other one ever gets out of moderation. I’m also saying a huge thanks to Jezebella and her friends-in-arms!

    Interesting that all the pre-election undecideds turned into “no” votes. Fairly sad statement that being pro-woman is an unmentionable position.

  80. Cycles

    “Florida (surprise, surprise), Nevada, Ohio, Montana, and another one that I can’t remember.”

    I could swear California was on that list. I guess, in their delusions, the embryo worshippers are predicting that the crazy hippy dippy state famous for unexpectedly writing opposite-sex marriage into its constitution will fall for this nonsense too. That’s the only explanation I can think of, unless they’re going for the whole futility/martyrdom thing.

  81. Denise

    I’ve also heard Oregon, which is where I am.

    The theory that I’ve heard about why they are trying this, and the theory that I agree with, is that they are trying to pull the conversation further into fundyland. Once people start talking seriously about whether a fertilized egg is a human being with full rights and privileges, some may say “well that’s just too far” but they may consider a 2nd trimester fetus’s personhood a “compromise position”.

  82. Barn Owl

    yankeesumbitch – “On steroids” is an ironic choice for comparison in a thread about patriarchal characterization of strong women. The steroids referred to are never those produced by plants, insects, or fungi, and almost certainly not vertebrate corticosteroids. Nor does the term, in common usage, refer to female sex steroids. “On steroids” almost always refers to male sex steroids, specifically anabolic steroids that mimic the effects of testosterone, and that are (usually) deliberately consumed by people who wish to increase muscle size and strength.

    Virilizing anything or anyone makes it or her better, correct?

  83. Cootie Twoshoes

    All day yesterday while listening to the news, I sang the praises of Jezebella & cohorts who beat incredible odds. My co-workers & I did some butt-dancing in your honor! Endless thanks!

    Denise, I think that’s absolutely true. The strategy is to keep pushing the mindset, to make legalized sexism feel like a compromise.

    Meanwhile, sexual harassment doesn’t even exist! It was a wild day in the news, I tell ya.

  84. Cootie Twoshoes

    And, I second Barn Owl’s summary of the poor choice of the term “on steroids.” Hulk-mania ain’t so impressive on Savage Death Island.

  85. Daisy Deadhead

    I used to the think the female redneck was a stock character but now I realize she is a subsidiary of the shrew/harridan, but with an accent. I guess the archetypes would be Granny on “Beverly Hillbillies” and all the older women on “Hee Haw”. Gretchen Wilson wrote a whole song about this person and made a video.

    Movie-wise, Sally Field rescued “Norma Rae” from this fate; Meryl Streep and Cher both rescued “Silkwood” but… I don’t think anyone else has. And I have been thinking on this since last night!

    Is that pitiful or what?

  86. Daisy Deadhead

    Fabulous Monster, that is fantastic! Thanks so much.

  87. Fannie Farmer (Mrs.)

    My views are a bit different about the female redneck character on tv – e.g., I saw Granny on the Beverly Hillbillies not as a shrew/harridan, but as a wise and nurturing matriarch – her advice and perspective were respected by her family, and resulted in good outcomes.

    An interesting contemporary incarnation of this demographic type is represented by Sheldon’s mother on The Big Bang Theory – although her anti-evolution views are prominently presented (in a way that they can be mocked or agreed with, according to the audience members’ pre-existing opinions), she is also shown to have a lot of common sense (just like the female lynchpin of the show, Penny).

  88. pheeno

    “and has since been perverted into “feisty ballbuster who’ll settle down once her past sexual trauma has been healed by the Cock of True Love”

    This made me snort pepsi from my nose.

  89. Daisy Deadhead

    Yttik, Mary Winkler got off for one reason and one reason only: Her sick-ass preacher husband left all of his violent sick-ass porn on his computer and the small religious community that had believed his holy-man okey-doke was stunned and shocked by that. And THEN they believed her. If there had been no proof of her story, that he was a sicko that made her dress up and get raped every night? She’d have been locked up.

    Oddly, the backward nature of the area HELPED her, since in a place like New York they would not have been as shocked by the porn and would not have been surprised that a preacher had a double life. So, she had several points in her favor.

    I watched her whole trial!

  90. tinfoil hattie

    I once summarized Hee Haw thusly: “It’s basically one long ‘joke’: ‘Mah wahf is such a big fuckin’ bitch!’ ‘Hooooowwwww much of a big fuckin’ bitch is she?'” when one of my sons was asking about the TV shows of yore.

    Of course, almost all TV shows can be extrapolated from that theme.

  91. Daisy Deadhead

    Fannie, ohhh I always liked Granny too, who was like my own granny (named Daisy, BTW, I took her name for my online name), but I noticed that my Ohio classmates thought she was crazy. I recently had a fit over something (happens fairly often) and someone compared ME to Granny, and I didn’t know if I should be upset or not.

    As a kid, I already had a tortured relationship to the Beverly Hillbillies, since we were the Ohio Hillbillies, and I knew it. (We didn’t have any money or Mr Drysdale though.) My stepfather played the banjo, which before BH, yankee children had never even heard. I used to take them to my house to hear “The Beverly Hillbillies music”. (I was both proud and embarrassed, since my family could make the “hillbilly music”–well, what did that say about ME?) And people would ask me if my Granny was like Granny? And she WAS, and I suddenly REALIZED IT.

    Granny is like a Rorschach test, some people loved her and some thought she was psychotic. Just like me, I guess! :P

  92. sjaustin

    “On steroids” almost always refers to male sex steroids, specifically anabolic steroids that mimic the effects of testosterone, and that are (usually) deliberately consumed by people who wish to increase muscle size and strength.

    Virilizing anything or anyone makes it or her better, correct?

    Why does increasing muscle size and strength have to be considered virilization?

  93. Barn Owl

    sjaustin – Where did I insist that muscle size and strength necessarily mean virilization? People usually take testosterone-mimicking anabolic steroids for the anabolic effects on muscle size and strength, but the androgenic or virilizing effects are well-known: increase in penis or clitoris size, increased length of the vocal cords, growth of body hair in a male pattern, increased libido and aggression. Some female East German athletes in the 1970s and 1980s were given anabolic steroids to increase muscle mass and strength, but the hormones also had undesired androgenic effects, as well as negative effects on non-reproductive health (acne, liver damage, changes in the heart). I don’t think it’s possible to have the desired anabolic effects without also incurring the virilizing effects of anabolic steroids.

  94. AlienNumber

    This got me thinking: Joan Didion said she’s tired of writing memoir after memoir after memoir and that she’s ready for something different.
    What if we suggest to her that she write about Twisty? And then Twisty will also be catapulted into mega-stardom and people can read her work too.

  95. AlienNumber

    The book by JD about Twisty can be called “The Year of Actual Thinking” hehe.

  96. Fictional Queen

    Except when the word is sl*t,pro stitute,or wh*re.Then the default gender is female and you get “male” or “man” before those words.Very generous of gentlemen to let those be female by default!

  97. Scrappy

    Twisty, I love you. You are a national treasure.

  98. Jill

    Quoth Barn Owl: “‘On steroids’ almost always refers to male sex steroids, specifically anabolic steroids that mimic the effects of testosterone, and that are (usually) deliberately consumed by people who wish to increase muscle size and strength. ”

    Nice blaming, but at the same time, nowadays “on steroids” is mostly just a figure of speech that doesn’t literally mean “on steroids.” “Twisty is a Didionesque figure” is how I read it, not “Twisty is more musclebound and testosterone-ridden than Joan Didion.”

    Thanks for the compliment, incidentally, but I must decline it. There are many things that differentiate me from Didion, such as talent, 45,789 published works, and the National Book Award.

  99. sjaustin

    You don’t need to educate me on the effects of AAS. You did not “insist” that muscle size and strength necessarily mean virilization, but in the comment I replied to, your phrasing implied that muscle strength and size were “virilizing” effects. All you mentioned were the intended anabolic effects, and then you jumped straight from there to the “virilizing” bit. Many people – including a surprising (or perhaps not) number of feminists – do believe that increasing muscle size and/or strength is something only dudes can/should do. I’ve been dealing with this silly little bit of gender essentialism for more than a quarter of a century.

  100. Daisy Deadhead

    “Twisty is more musclebound and testosterone-ridden than Joan Didion.”

    Which doesn’t take much.

    Seriously, saw her on Charlie Rose or somewhere recently, and she looked like she weighed 83 lbs if she weighed an ounce. I worry about her, but then, I have worried about her since “Play it as it Lays”–and she is still with us. Quite honestly, with all of the sorta-suicide attempts in that book? Peeling boiled eggs while you change lanes on the Hollywood freeway going 85 mph? Expected her to be gone by now.

    And yes, the writing. Astonishing. I have never forgotten it; every time somebody zooms by me applying makeup or eating or something, changing lanes at breakneck pace? To this day, I think, “Joan Didion in Play it as it Lays”. (Thing is, they are just driving badly, and she was deliberately trying to be careless.)

    But she wrote about it so breathlessly, I felt like *I* was in the car with her. NOOOOOoooooOOOO, slow down Joan!

    The dream about the faucets stopped up with blood? Stayed with me too. Forever. Maria (character in the novel) also looked at photos of herself or see herself on TV and say “She looked all right” (relieved that her emotional state was not evident) and that is the way I usually appraised myself at the time I read it (drug addict) and it just seemed so REAL and TRUE. I was just hypnotized by it.

    Incredible novel about a (self-consciously) “spoiled” affluent woman’s emotional disintegration, highly recommended! Even with all the theoretical feminist books I had read up to that point, about the so-called “Problem That Has No Name” — as working class girl, I really didn’t get it. Until I read “Play it as it Lays”. Then I got it.

    Thats what they call Art. :)

  101. MezzoPiana

    Agree with sjaustin. Really sick of the ‘woman = physically weak and that’s fine cos we’re stronger in BETTER ways’ crap, which is surprisingly prevalent even in feminist spaces. Female humans are potentially very physically strong and muscly. Evolutionarily-speaking, what the hell use is it survival-wise for ANY species to have fully one half of its members so puny that they must be ‘protected’ (har har!) by the other half and unable to defend either themselves or others (infants, for example)?! It’s ridiculous. It also plays right into the hands of the beauty mandate that says females should be oh so teensy and slender, to the point of taking up no space at all and, not coincidentally IMO, not much of a physical challenge to anyone who would wish to harm them. It gets to the point where even women who work out because they want to get strong are terrified that they’ll get ‘bulky’ because that is ‘unfeminine’. I call bullshit – muscles shouldn’t be a default male thing, they’re HUMAN!

    I’m currently investing in strength-training my body and fully expect to have the physical power to easily overpower most men by the time I’m finished. Should I ever need to, you understand.

  102. Discombobulated

    Daisy, I was also very taken with “Play It As It Lays,” because, to me, it was a story told from the point of view of the “cold,” “femme fatale,” “hard-to-get bitch goddess” that is always sneeringly and slaveringly lusted over by all of the male protagonists in film, TV, literature, pulp novels, everywhere.

    I’d never read the lust-object’s point of view before, and it was thrilling to me.

  103. Lindsay

    Daisy and Discombobulated, you’ve both made me want to go read “Play It as It Lays.”

    And sjaustin and MezzoPiana, I share your annoyance with the idea that powerful, well-developed musculature is an inherently male trait. I can see where people would get that impression, since androgens do stimulate muscle growth, and men generally have more of those circulating in their bodies than we do, but 1) androgens do not just come from the testes; they also come from the adrenal gland, which both sexes possess, and they even come from the ovaries (albeit in smaller amounts than they come from the testes), and 2) muscle growth can be accelerated by more things than just androgens. Use of a muscle will increase its size and strength, no matter what your particular cocktail of sex hormones is.

    There are also certain genetic variations that make some people able to put on muscle mass more quickly and easily than others; as far as I know women are no less likely to have one of them than men are…

    Men might still have a natural advantage in muscle mass in the absence of patriarchy, due to their greater-on-average androgen levels, but I think it would be a relatively small one if women were not culturally conditioned to dependency and subordination from birth.

    (Also, good luck MezzoPiana! As someone who *has* added a whole lot of muscle mass, and strength, I can tell you it can be done.)

  104. Keri

    I am reminded of how Mel Gibson just tapped right into my psyche years ago in the aptly named “What women want”. I fuckin hate dudes. Right down to the little guy who came to install my new living room carpet today who asked about my marital status and how do I stay in shape. Fuck my life.

  105. romana klee

    ahhhhhh. let me just give an a-fucking-men.

  106. romana klee

    (to the post itself, i mean. have not yet read any commentary)

  107. ptittle

    Phledge, what IS that creature in your pic wearing on its head? (And why?)

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