With so much great content out there on so many platforms, it’s a necessity to be a little picky about what I consume. There is already enough of an onslaught of judgment, disdain, and even danger that anyone who identifies as a woman puts up with in real life, I can’t stand spending my wind-down time watching something that plays into that.
Case in point: I recently gave up watching I Feel Bad with my husband because, well, the main character just felt a little too bad. While the show is overall cute and funny as sitcoms go, and it did sometimes address how a lot of the things Emet felt bad about are things women in general are guilted for, I felt it downplayed it to just a joke. She felt bad for not being more involved with her kids because she worked (even though her husband, David, worked just as much and was not guilty or guilted); she felt bad for wanting some time for herself, away from David and the kids and work; she felt bad for not being more accommodating to her parents, etc. SO many things women have to worry about in terms of their expectations from themselves and society as a whole. I realize the whole point is to poke fun at the guilt-trips many women face, but I also wanted the show to do a little more with punching-up at the status quo. I want all media to do a little better with that, to be honest.
Indeed, a woman can totally be serious about her career and other personal goals (ya know, have a life), but as soon as she partners up, it's “when are you getting married?” And literally on their wedding day, if that happens to occur, it's “when are the babies coming along?” Before I had coupled up with my husband, people asked me what I was up to, asking me how I was doing in school and work. This is where I feel the rub lies: men never stop being asked about how they're doing at work or school or whatever else they're up to. Women not only stop being asked these questions, they often instead start being asked when they're going to pop out kids. For my own experience with this, I felt it was nevermind that I had started new jobs at a scientific publishing company and a creative writing community school that were both fulfilling huge dreams of mine-- I had just gotten married, so why wasn't I pregnant already? And you bet no one ever asked B where the baby was, they asked him about the promotion he received shortly after we got married, shortly after I started my new gigs. If we're still going to tell the happily ever after stories, why can't there be diverse happy endings? I love when people fall in love, I'm definitely that sap who cries at every wedding, but falling in love and committing to someone else, no matter one's gender, can involve more than getting married and having children, or can include these things at different times. Maybe characters can fulfill lots of different dreams, just like people do in real life.
Lest I start sounding like The Angry Woman (another trope, although I find it perfectly understandable that women are a bit miffed at the state of things), let’s bring up some tropes that I'm not sure can be flipped to punch up or question gender roles, so maybe we can just let them rest: woman must die to further a man’s story (aka fridging), woman (especially a woman of color) must save man from himself and/or fix him. The latter is probably the umbrella problem here: women must not only do the aforementioned work of raising family and making home, but all the emotional work as well. And because the societal expectation is that being coupled up, even if it's a toxic and harmful coupling, is better than being alone, women in particular are expected to stay and “fix” the man. The movie He's Just Not That Into You came out ten years ago and Gigi and Janine's characters still haunt me. The former desperately tries to cling to any man who will speak to her as The One, making her the creepy, thirsty chick who needs the mentorship of the cool dude, who calms her down enough to end up falling for her himself. Poor Janine is finally getting the home she's always dreamed of, only to discover the man she wanted to share it with only married her because he was too scared to break up with her. In a way fridging is just another example of this trope. In the otherwise perfectly enjoyable movie Deadpool 2, the title character's fiancee is (spoiler) killed, so of course he must plunge into a wave of sorrow to the point of trying to kill himself, even though he's essentially immortal, then eventually realize he wants revenge. Revenge turns to discovery of his self-worth, which any character arguably deserves, but why does it so often have to be tied to the death or suffering of a woman? I could think of a number of other things that would make just as much sense to his character that could catalyze his grief and subsequent ass kicking of baddies. Maybe not as many women in real life get literally fridged, but there are thousands of women who stay in unhealthy, even abusive relationships because we should be able to fix the man, to shape him into the partner who'll take care of us and make us whole. Talk about doing all the emotional work, and literally sacrificing everything for the man.
In short, these films and shows only play into the tiresome if not down right harmful tropes that, frankly I would love to do without. Show me all the badass, vulnerable, multi-dimensional, complex characters, and I will turn on the channel and bring the popcorn.