Through high school, I was the girl who was always rebellious about some of the other norm. They said no kohl in school so I slathered it on thick. They said no skirts and I decided that then dresses aren’t technically prohibited. Soon, this need to break rules came together with the need to be unique or as the pop culture calls it, manic pixie women. I wanted to blend the two cliché tropes together because that is all that movies, tv shows, and sometimes books told me would make me the “main character.”.
What I didn’t completely understand was that men wrote these tropes to make the MEN main characters, while women characters are just the “helping figures.” Their writing simply makes the women just a damsel in distress that is waiting for the male protagonist to sweep them in some form or the other. With these realizations, a new frenzied me saw this vast world in a completely different light. The glasses have a slight tinge of grey.
It was when I read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald that I first saw the portrayal of women as helping characters. Daisy Buchanan was the main character of the book. Actually, she was at the center of this story. The American dream that was shown by Fitzgerald started and ended with her. And yet, in the book, she is the token girl. The perfect girl next door (though it was Gatsby who was next door). She was dainty, carefree, flirty, and, for the sake of mystery, a money-loaded love. Except for making that one mistake, right at the end, one sees nothing individualistic about her. She is a dream that is seen only by men. Fitzgerald might argue that the book was through the eyes of a man, but then all I can ask is, how shallow was this man? How shallow do you (Fitzgerald) think men are?
The Great Gatsby is a classic. If I choose to ignore that one-dimensional Daisy, I agree there is a great depth to the book. But this makes me uncomfortable. Applauded literature that makes you think, but also sets you back regarding other human beings—is it worth the inconsideration? So when I first saw Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, my mind was blown away. Why wouldn’t it? Unfortunately, I saw it again.
As much as I love Kate Winslet (she is a talented goddess) her character just paints a wrong picture. The girl who loves to color her hair. She lives life for herself and is QUIRKY. Her quirkiness is her entire personality (think all of Zooey Deschanel’s characters). Winslet’s role in this film was just that. To my absolute horror, I found out that the movie had its own book.
This book has essays that just relentlessly go on about how the film is an absolute masterpiece. Giving such books a title of perfection only heightens the insecurity of women in this world. All men gaze at reality with the same glasses that books and tropes like this lend to them. The characterizations of women characters are categorized into clichés: either girls who like make-up or love pink, and those who don’t do that are “different”. It makes girls compete with each other or look down upon each other. As we know them now, they become “pick me” girls.
Along this line, many trending young adult books and Wattpad, which is a problematically over-used forum, also idolize the concept of pure girls. Girls who are virgins and do not have thoughts about sex and who see such an activity as sinful until it is with their one true love. Men have written the idea of such a girl for men who would rather sow their wild oats on the “dirty” girls than commit to one. These ideas make women who have sex for their own pleasure seem inferior. Listing these books would be painful and not to mention, time-consuming.
For the sake of not pointing out the obvious, I decided to not dwell much on how sex scenes or lust towards women are shown. In the murder mystery genre of books, some authors write detailed sex scenes where the women’s body is written in ways that I as a woman, want to ask the author if they have ever met a person of the opposite gender. There is a detailed article that details this very phenomenon.
Moving on, “Men written by Women” is also a trending topic now. For a completely different reason. While many are pointing out the chauvinistic and misogynistic way men write women, many are also drooling about men written by women. Jane Austen gave us Mr. Darcy, Louisa May Alcott gave us Laurie, and Phoebe Waller Bridge gave us Andrew Scott as Hot Priest in Fleabag. Disney gave us Flynn when they made the best decision of making a study of women discussing the perfect man.
They are considerate, respectful, and thoughtful not only to men or women in particular, but to society in general. Yes, the bar is in fact that low. Dr. Vivian Diller, who is a psychologist, says- “Authors who write about their own gender use their internal experience and speak from the inside out. When they write about the opposite sex, their perspective has to shift—from the outside in. Neither is necessarily better but rather they try different points of view.”
It might be true that neither gender is better but it is the advantage of the women, that their lens for the world was first colored by their male counterparts so now they are able to understand them better and make them more humane to them, more appealing to their needs.
The discussion about men writing women and women writing men is a long journey, so for now, shine your glasses and hope for a clear picture. We can all enjoy clichés, but being aware of them becoming problematic tropes is our responsibility.