"When we look at a girl story, most of us go a tiny bit stupid."
March 6, 2018 5:02 AM   Subscribe

"Let’s call it the “male glance,” the narrative corollary to the male gaze. We all have it, and it’s ruining our ability to see good art." Lili Loofbourow in the Virginia Quarterly Review.

A shorter version of this essay in the Guardian Longreads.

Lili Loofbourow previously on Metafilter.
posted by Ziggy500 (97 comments total) 105 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is amazing, I hope lots of people read it. I'm going to be digesting it for a while.
posted by emjaybee at 5:42 AM on March 6 [3 favorites]


I found it interesting and thought-provoking.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:52 AM on March 6


Honestly, I had never even heard of "Doll and Em" until reading the first paragraph of this article. That's a problem.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 6:07 AM on March 6 [20 favorites]


Oy, that Mark Twain quote:
Then is it [Jane Austen's] purpose to make the reader detest her people up to the middle of the book and like them in the rest of the chapters? That could be. That would be high art.
Um, yes, that's exactly what she's trying to do? Like, it's not a subtle, deep theme you have to squint hard to see. Her flawed protagonists are literally called out for their flaws explicitly by other characters in the text as a rule and then strive to overcome them. If Mark Twain couldn't see it, then I reckon the problem is him and not her.

(And I, too, had never even heard of Doll and Em.)
posted by jackbishop at 6:14 AM on March 6 [20 favorites]


Doll and Em was really good. But it was a quiet, thoughtful and talky show.

True Detective was loud, had big famous stars, fights, explosions, lots of yelling and swearing and probably 50 times the budget. And every episode was some cliffhanger. In the end, I didn't really like True Detective very much. But it was tailor made to be big, splashy and loud. It's odd to compare the two.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 6:20 AM on March 6 [9 favorites]


I am always infuriated by the dismissal of womens’ novels as being too “domestic,” as if nothing serious can be done in such a small space. Proust, arguably the greatest novelist ever, worked within a very cramped social environment that opens out to embrace everything. If we allow Proust that, how can anything domestic be automatically small? Leaving out, of course, the women who work on s broader canvas...
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:24 AM on March 6 [14 favorites]


Oy, that Mark Twain quote:

Then is it [Jane Austen's] purpose to make the reader detest her people up to the middle of the book and like them in the rest of the chapters? That could be. That would be high art.

Um, yes, that's exactly what she's trying to do? Like, it's not a subtle, deep theme you have to squint hard to see. Her flawed protagonists are literally called out for their flaws explicitly by other characters in the text as a rule and then strive to overcome them. If Mark Twain couldn't see it, then I reckon the problem is him and not her.


Yes this drives me crazy! OH MY GOD! The male thing that is like "Ah ha! Unbeknownst to you, you have, in your unassuming female way, stumbled upon something genius!". NO MY GOOD SIR, THIS IS NOT AN ACCURATE ASSESSMENT OF THE SITUATION. I AM PRETTY BRIGHT AND IT IS KNOWNST TO ME THAT I HAVE FIGURED OUT A THING.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 6:25 AM on March 6 [134 favorites]


Well good thing for addressing that Mark Twain bit, I have Zombie Jane Austen right here and she has a rebuttal...

MMMMmmmMMM BRAAAAINS!!!

There you have it, Ms. Austen clearly recognizes her clever constuct and holds it, and women authors, artists, writers and actresses in the highest esteem for the quality of their work, not just their appearance.
posted by Nanukthedog at 6:35 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


I've read this article several times now, and I'm this awkward position with it where even as I agree with the points it makes, I find the examples it uses to make those points slightly... off.

Doll and Em absolutely didn't get the promotion it needed to thrive -- as is evidenced by so few people having heard of it -- and it's worth checking out. But the comparison to True Detective is tricky to make, because they're wildly different types of show. True Detective was a production of its time, that Mad Men/Breaking Bad era of prestige television with rich, lush, sumptuous cinematography; Doll and Em is intentionally low-lit, lo-fi, shaky-cam-style handheld cinematography, and the set dressing often gets kinda... collage-y? Intentionally, but it's definitely a unique style. It's satire, not drama, with a lot of cameos -- it's a lot like Extras. And it wasn't headlined by known stars. I do agree that True Detective was way-over-read as deeper than it was, but I'm not totally convinced that Doll and Em had 'subtle, new, and above all coherent things to say' -- it wouldn't have occurred to me to describe it as transformative (though neither was True Detective, even as it positioned itself as at least Extra Deep, if not Transformative, but that's not really her point). I didn't ever think that's what Doll and Em was going for; the 'new' element of it was the style, not the dynamic between the characters.

I'm similarly... uneasy? about the academics example. It is absolutely the case that women are misread when attempting humour and presumed to be Not Funny but academics are often humourless idiots, particularly at awards dinners where they're performing their pomposity in public. The difference may lie in the fact that they felt confident enough to openly tell her that they didn't get the joke, whereas a man might just have merited some confused or catty whispers among colleagues at the reception, but the read she makes in her argument again just feels weirdly... off.

I don't know. I plan to read it again. But I went from agreeing with it to feeling annoyed with it and I'm not yet sure where my feelings are going to settle.
posted by halation at 6:39 AM on March 6 [17 favorites]


When we think we’re seeing through a woman’s foundation, then, we’ve done something a hundred times worse than criticize a woman for her appearance. We’ve mistaken noticing that there is makeup for correctly perceiving what’s behind it.

I see this happen all the time when men approach a woman's statements with, "What I think you're saying is..." or "So you're really saying we should X," as if what's been said needs his interpretive lens to make sense, like we're so devilishly complex and tricksy by design, with our feminine wiles, that you have to carefully investigate our claims rather than acting on the obvious thing like you would with a guy's message. Once I started to notice it from a few men, I noticed it all the time, and it makes me so angry, which I know is super scary, angry woman alert. We are forced all the time by some men to listen to their incorrect explanations of what they think we meant, the condescending notion that we couldn't possibly have intended that brilliant thing the man deduced we might want. But, like, our needs and basic requests are not a fucking puzzle—they only are if one persists in seeing us, or not seeing us, as it were, as something in need of interpretation and further inquiry. More studies, we always need more studies to tell us what a woman is really saying. Agh!
posted by limeonaire at 6:47 AM on March 6 [38 favorites]


I agree completely with the macro argument being made here — that media-consuming society in general is so incredibly sexist that it prizes tired, mediocre male-centric narratives over engaging, sophisticated female-centric stories — but I’m also not completely on board with the specific examples being used. A better female-centric analogue to True Detective is probably Big Little Lies, and the critical response to those two shows would be make for an interesting comparison, I bet. For starters, it seems that even Big Little Lies had to have a dude directing every episode in order to get the kind of promo and marketing push from HBO that would make it a mini-phenom.
posted by Mothlight at 6:48 AM on March 6 [9 favorites]


The extended discussion of Eat, Pray, Love is, for me, the most telling example. It's a joke in the popular consciousness, the ultimate example of vapid, female-coded consumerism in the service of finding oneself. You could make a list a mile long of Serious Books by Serious Men that are Taken Seriously that amount to the same, or less, without making it past B in the card catalog.

I've been reading a lot more novels by women in the last year or two, and I'm not entirely sure why. It wasn't conscious, at least not at first, but I've found myself fed up with many of the stories that men are telling, that men have been telling. Macho bullshit is incredibly tiresome.

Just walking through my recent reads on Goodreads, of the last 20 books I rated 4- or 5-star, 12 are by women (and a few of the rest have female protagonists or are otherwise feminine-coded "family dramas"), and basically all the stuff I rated 1- or 2-star is studly-dude crap. Not that I think I'm some woke bro or whatever; I'm just realizing that "men's stories," for whatever that means, writ large, don't interest me much. (And I hated True Detective. It was the dudeliest thing and I struggled to get through even one episode.)
posted by uncleozzy at 6:49 AM on March 6 [24 favorites]


How long did it take critics to realise that the protagonists in Lena Dunham’s Girls were supposed to be unpleasant? And yet the internet was flooded with thinkpieces wryly observing that the four characters were insufferable as if this was a revelation, as if they had somehow divined a secret Dunham had either tried to hide

contextualizing a good point with Lena Dunham apologia is some kind of weirdness. I think you could make a dramatically better point with Broad City - how the characters are likable but flawed and occasionally mean and we like them because of their flaws and meanness that comes off as a 'telling-it-as-it-is' quality much in the same way we love Seth Rogen for the same. meanwhile, I think it's very difficult circumscribing where Lena Dunham's white, upper-class privilege ends and the satire begins

I've read this article several times now, and I'm this awkward position with it where even as I agree with the points it makes, I find the examples it uses to make those points slightly... off.

between the Dunham references, the man in the gorilla suit viral video, and saying that we don't believe Transparent to be experimental even though the show's third season is basically one big seasonal experiment into the visual rendition of epigenetics and historical memories, I'd agree - it reads like a thinkpiece written half a decade ago made up by examples from the same era, some of which have changed over time or aren't nearly as highly regarded as they once were or just aren't as relevant to her argument as say The Handmaid's Tale or Big Little Lies
posted by runt at 6:50 AM on March 6 [5 favorites]


The extended discussion of Eat, Pray, Love is, for me, the most telling example. It's a joke in the popular consciousness, the ultimate example of vapid, female-coded consumerism in the service of finding oneself. You could make a list a mile long of Serious Books by Serious Men that are Taken Seriously that amount to the same, or less, without making it past B in the card catalog.

I mean, there's also a point to be made about how EPL is orientalizing as fuck and inspired a whole generation of people to go on a journey of cultural appropriation and the exotification of the Other but sure

give me Wild or Tiny Beautiful Things over a Elizabeth Gilbert novel and I'm saying that as someone who likes Elizabeth Gilbert having heard her on a few podcasts here and there
posted by runt at 6:54 AM on March 6 [17 favorites]


am always infuriated by the dismissal of womens’ novels as being too “domestic,” as if nothing serious can be done in such a small space.

Ahaha yes. See also: "Literature about women having babies and being mothers is boring and trivial; important literature is about male heroes who are figuring out masculinity and grappling with unresolved issues about their fathers." Yeah, those things have nothing at all in common!
posted by Catseye at 6:57 AM on March 6 [40 favorites]


On a related note: the women's art that is made visible is often chosen from relatively few genres or subjects that are expected of women, so you get the "oh, women are only concerned with [things]" (which are then deprecated, of course). Like yesterday's post about Leonora Carrington, who wasn't really recognized as a significant artist or writer (outside of feminist circles, where both her art and her writing were pretty well known since at least eighties) because surrealism is for dudes.

There are lots of women surrealists contemporary to Max Ernst, Salvador Dali, etc, and while some of them produced work (Carrington, Fini, Tanning) that had a different feel from what most of the male artists were doing, there were a number (like Oppenheim and Sage) who were doing work that is very obviously Capital S-Surrealism As Pioneered By Dudes. So on the one hand there was an unwillingness to recognize the surrealist-but-not-Dali-esque work of some of the women, and on the other a total disinterest in the work by women which was more in line with Dali or Magritte, etc.

I think this happens with writing as well - on the one hand, it has taken a lot of work to get Austen, the Brontes, Woolf, etc firmly seated in the literary canon; on the other, women whose work is less focused on the family and relationships among a small number of people become invisible or their work is held to be boring. It's not even that "women's novels" are not public enough to be the Great [Whatever] Novel, it's that when women do write Great Whatever-style novels, they don't get anywhere.

You can see the echoes of this in the "controversy" over NK Jemisin's recent trilogy. (I say "echoes" because Jemisin's work hasn't been marginalized by criticism.) On a mere "let's read about adventures" level, you can compare them to China Mieville's Bas-Lag books - big, splashy novels with a wide canvas, extremely inventive world-building and very overt political themes. Mieville's novels were not immediately beloved by everyone who read them, but their politics and scope weren't used as reasons to dismiss them the way those things are with Jemisin's books. Jemisin produces a series that fits neatly within the Large, Innovative But Accessible Science Fiction Series category and many people look for a reason to knock it down, or think that it's only getting press because it's by a woman of color.
posted by Frowner at 7:08 AM on March 6 [29 favorites]


I ran into the same thing with analysis of Brave, as I saw reviewers treat the mother-daughter relationship as only of interest to girls. As if there weren't a mountain of stories about a father and son coming to appreciate one another's perspective that were billed as the universal human experience.
posted by Karmakaze at 7:11 AM on March 6 [35 favorites]


I feel in a bit of a weird space right now, a majority of my reading these days involves authors/artists who are not men, feeling a bit spoiled for choice in that area. But I tune in (via Prime and Netflix) where that ratio is flipped. It's a very real tension in our lives right now.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 7:11 AM on March 6


I'm not sure if this has been linked yet on Metafilter but there's a recent NYT Books article, The New Vanguard, on how palpably women are shaping fiction in the second decade of the 21stC. Maybe it's the circles I circle, but there's a genuine sense that the zeitgeist is changing rapidly with respect to fiction written by women, and how it is received and perceived by literary culture. And, naturally, women writers are responding to this shift, and producing more and more ambitious, individual work. It's a great time for novels.

I'm not arguing at all that the male glance doesn't exist, but I feel strangely optimistic that it is more rapidly correctable than other entrenched forms of sexism.
posted by distorte at 7:15 AM on March 6 [6 favorites]


I mean, there's also a point to be made about how EPL is orientalizing as fuck

I hate Eat, Pray, Love but I think the general point still stands. It's not worse than a lot of Serious Literature By Men(tm), but it's regarded much worse. It doesn't have the protective veneer of seriousness that a male author writing male-coded themes would have given it.

The answer here isn't "give Eat, Pray, Love a pass for its orientalism" - it's to stop giving men a pass, to recognize that a lot of Serious Literature by Men(tm) is often equally vapid, and to hold it to account for its offensive themes in the same way.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 7:22 AM on March 6 [50 favorites]


I'm this awkward position with it where even as I agree with the points it makes, I find the examples it uses to make those points slightly... off.

Yeah, this. I got really thrown off by the “there exists no second life for girls”, because there does, and it’s motherhood, which HAS ITS OWN PROBLEMS BOY HOWDY, but it’s not like there is no other socially approved existence for women but girlhood. She’s stretching reality to get an easier metaphor, and the piece itself doesn’t even need that. Most of it can stand on its own merits.
posted by corb at 7:25 AM on March 6 [4 favorites]


A lot of discussion here reminds me of a post last month (Internalised misogyny and Twilight) and how male-written work is a lot less criticized than female-written work.
posted by Pendragon at 7:34 AM on March 6 [8 favorites]


I am literally struggling right now with whether to finish a novel I am writing because I am afraid it is too womany. It's got a great premise, it's funny, but I'll be damned if I want to pour a bunch of blood, sweat and tears into a work to see it put in a cover with an open window and fluttering curtain on the front and a script title. It isn't cinematic enough. I hate that I even go through this calculus, but I do.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:35 AM on March 6 [18 favorites]


(also, tiny confession time: I picked up Eat, Pray, Love in an airport on the way to see my dying grandmother, and it helped me. I am not here to defend it from charges of orientalism, but it helped me when I needed help, and I am grateful.)
posted by Countess Elena at 7:37 AM on March 6 [10 favorites]


The answer here isn't "give Eat, Pray, Love a pass for its orientalism" - it's to stop giving men a pass, to recognize that a lot of Serious Literature by Men(tm) is often equally vapid, and to hold it to account for its offensive themes in the same way.

sure, in the abstract academic sense, absolutely. but it functions within the power dynamics of oppressive white feminism in the same way that pussy hats represent oppressive cis feminism. white-centering in feminist practice is so thoughtlessly common that the implicit bears being made explicit. intersectional practice is very much about not forgetting to mention the racist elephant in the room while racing to make a critique of the patriarchy
posted by runt at 7:41 AM on March 6 [4 favorites]


this is my first post here. i'll admit i didn't read all of the other comments first, but i wanted to mention Ghost World written by Daniel Clowes and the film starring Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson. It affected me quite deeply and turned me around quite a bit on women in comics and film and art generally.
Edit: I'm a dude.
posted by somethingsomethingsomething at 7:45 AM on March 6 [3 favorites]


Ah, the professors. “...No evidence of her mastery counted against their reading.”

It did, though, to the extent that at least three of them had to come and tell her about it. Men (and others) use constant putdowns/underminings of women to remind themselves, against the evidence of their own senses, that Women Don't Matter. If they ever stopped reminding themselves, they might forget. Then where would we be?

(I generally liked this article, though I did find it to have an all-over-the-map quality. To add my own quibble to the others mentioned here: She's off-base in citing amateur astronomers as an example of those who look but do not see. Amateur astronomy is one area where practitioners can and do make serious contributions every single year.)
posted by Weftage at 7:53 AM on March 6 [6 favorites]


Countess Elena, right there with you.
posted by Ziggy500 at 8:04 AM on March 6


s. I think you could make a dramatically better point with Broad City - how the characters are likable but flawed and occasionally mean and we like them because of their flaws and meanness

better or not, it's a completely different point. the Broad City characters are, just as you say, likable. they're supposed to be, and they are. people who love them and relate to them are not reading against the text. the most radical thing this good show does is expand the range of what likeable qualities women in tv shows are seen to exhibit; qualities we've always had in life but do not always see portrayed with affection in media, if portrayed at all. loveable fuckups in tv/movies are generally male, or both sexy and secondary if female. so this is a biggish thing and a nice thing.

"Girls," on the other hand, has characters that are not likable. on purpose. you may think it is a bad show or you may think it has various bad qualities, and it does. but finding the characters unpleasant is a mark of the show's success and mastery of writing/acting technique, not a mark of any artistic failure.

and this is such a radical proposition, writing women protagonists who are really unlikeable, not just cute adorable "flawed"-but-loveable-anyway fuckup-strugglers, that it's like people can't even read about the concept without simultaneously erasing it from their fields of vision. it isn't "better" to write women who are just gosh darn lovable even though they are no good at the daily tasks of life and kind of annoying sometimes than to write women whose behavior and character elicit more from a viewer than simple animal affection. a woman character who does not project a powerful "love me! please" signal -- or who can be seen to try to be liked, and seen to fail, again on purpose by the writer's or actor's design -- fail to be liked not only by other characters but by the viewer -- deeply unsettles and repels many people who can view similar male characters with a very different understanding. nothing about lena dunham as a real individual speaks to this at all.
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:11 AM on March 6 [46 favorites]


people who can view similar male characters with a very different understanding

Larry David much?
posted by uncleozzy at 8:19 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


I initially had a similar reaction to some other people here: This is really insightful, but why these weird examples? And then I started listing to myself all of the better shows and books she could have referenced instead.

But what if I'm making the same mistake as the clueless scientists? What if the author intentionally chose works that we haven't heard of, or that we have preconceived notions about, or that aren't very good but are better than stuff made by men that got more attention? That was explicitly the idea of the part about Eat, Pray, Love. She hasn't even read it, doesn't know if she would actually like it, but she can already tell you for sure that it's a victim of the male glance. I think we have to at least consider the possibility that choosing these examples is part of the rhetorical performance. Otherwise we've missed the whole point of the essay.
posted by Hypocrite_Lecteur at 8:42 AM on March 6 [22 favorites]


There seems to me to be more than one thing in play here in the continual diminishment of women in the arts. There are several branches that all come from the same trunk, but have differing characteristics.

There is the sexual aspect the author touches on in regards to women's physical appearance and how that leads to a subjugational desire in men; women as consumers, where their taste is held as suspect so anything aimed at or consumed primarily by women is held as lesser; women as creators, where they simply can't match up to men doing manly things which is obviously a virtue, so they are seen as lesser for following different interests which aren't as important, or for not being as good as some other man when they do "compete" in similar projects; and as much as anything, a fear of femininity and all associated with it as being intrinsically weak and less potent than masculine perspectives.

Those elements can all be present in an artistic endeavor, but any one of them alone is often enough to be held as rendering the work lesser. Women creators, women consumers, women centered, or just being "feminine" all are marks that all too often are held against works matched to conventions centered around men and masculinity. Even when women weren't making movies very much, movies aimed at them or about them were, and often still are, held as lesser than those aimed at men. Westerns or male genre films are to be taken seriously, where melodramas or female genres are to be laughed at, even though the term melodrama itself originally encompassed westerns too. Some women manage to briefly escape the dynamic by making "tough" films or by taking action roles, only to find that moment of privilege brief as the first money loser they make drops them from the ranks of "dependable" stars and directors their male counterparts are held as being.
posted by gusottertrout at 8:42 AM on March 6 [4 favorites]


I never read Eat, Pray, Love because it has "Pray" in the title. I did not and do not know what it was about, now I know it's female-centric I guess, but super not interested in anything to do with praying or faith.

I do feel dumb missing that Girls was supposed to be full of entirely unlikable characters, was Tiny Furniture the same deal? I only watched most of the first season before giving up, I just don't like rich people or rich people children problems. I'm also not sure knowing they're supposed to be despicable would make me watch the show again, it's hard to watch any media where you wish ill upon your main characters.

Great essay, something to absorb and be mindful of moving forward. The Mark Twain bit was infuriating, it's always frustrating when someone mistakes your artistic intent as some sort of fluke simply because they have no confidence in you, your skills, or intelligence.
posted by GoblinHoney at 8:44 AM on March 6 [5 favorites]


Can we also talk about the Male Ear, which has closed my mind to so much good music over the years and keeps even more good music from ever reaching my ears in the first place?
posted by straight at 8:51 AM on March 6 [20 favorites]


Girls was massively popular, extensively dissected and totally not ignored at all. Everybody knows about that show, and it is OK to have opinions about it that don't amount to "it was an amazing piece of genius art." Yes, the lead characters were unlikable, obviously on purpose - though the degree to which any given person disliked them probably hinged on their level of sympathy for poor-rich-kid-syndrome. The thing is, the premise of a show has to draw you in, and "well-off underachievers who have lots of sex in expensive apartments" is not, you know, universally compelling. So if you don't have that and the characters are unlikable and the jokes don't resonate, you're going to have plenty of people who don't like your show for perfectly valid reasons.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:54 AM on March 6 [4 favorites]


Is it too off-topic to ask what are some good shows or movies on Netflix that I might have skipped because of the Male Glance?
posted by straight at 8:56 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


Is it too off-topic to ask what are some good shows or movies on Netflix that I might have skipped because of the Male Glance?

That would be a great use of AskMetafilter!
posted by everybody had matching towels at 8:58 AM on March 6 [10 favorites]


Can we also talk about the Male Ear ... ?

Seriously. When I was going through a Beatles phase at age 12, I found my dad's LPs of the Plastic Ono Band. I was amazed by "Don't Worry Kyoko." It was like nothing I had ever heard. My parents were certain I only liked Yoko Ono to annoy them. Until the internet happened, I only knew of one other person in the world who appreciated her -- an anonymous copywriter in a catalog writing the blurb for her box CD set. But the fact that the set was made and sold made me feel less alone.

(Obligatory note: no one is required to like Yoko Ono, but you do need to take her seriously.)
posted by Countess Elena at 9:00 AM on March 6 [29 favorites]



Is it too off-topic to ask what are some good shows or movies on Netflix that I might have skipped because of the Male Glance?


Definitely not Godless, which was sure marketed as something that would skirt past the Male Glance but in actual factual reality was absolutely nothing of the sort. (I am still desperately trying to figure out what went on with that show, who decided to market it the way they did, and whether anyone at any point was like, this is super deceptive?)

The thing I have the hardest time scratching my itch for is female characters that are written the way male antiheros and antihero-adjacent characters are. Women in TV especially are usually characterized pretty much entirely as "the person doing all the emotional labor" and that character is never the central character because doing emotional labor is boring and sucks and we all know it because we are also the ones doing it. And that also makes for a much less complex, almost entirely reactive character.

I watched The Killing (US) not because I am way into puzzle box murder mysteries (I'm not) but because Sarah Linden is doing emotional labor for no one. She's taciturn, complicated, not the world's best mom, kind of a mess but not in that "lol I day drink wine and spent my car payment money on having my nails done tee hee!" way that women are often portrayed as "messes" on TV, and it was so refreshing to me.
posted by soren_lorensen at 9:11 AM on March 6 [19 favorites]


Girls was massively popular, extensively dissected and totally not ignored at all. Everybody knows about that show, and it is OK to have opinions about it that don't amount to "it was an amazing piece of genius art."

I don't think the point of this essay is whether or not Girls is genius art or even a good show. I think the point is that many people missed or dismissed what the show was doing on purpose, while assuming there was deeper meaning in just about every piece of True Detective.
posted by Emmy Rae at 9:13 AM on March 6 [24 favorites]


This essay reminded me of all the times in meetings where I have said something and someone explains to me why my idea was good, starting with something like "I think you've come across something really useful!" Yes, of course I did. Do you know how many thoughts I already had that I chose not to say out loud because they were NOT useful? I chose to make this contribution, not by accident, but on purpose because I am also in this group of people trying to solve this problem.
posted by Emmy Rae at 9:16 AM on March 6 [35 favorites]


That would be a great use of AskMetafilter!

Yes please do! I was thinking about doing that exact Q myself, just wanted to reread some similar asks I remember first, but I think none have been that exact question, at least recently.
posted by randomnity at 9:20 AM on March 6


The thing I have the hardest time scratching my itch for is female characters that are written the way male antiheros and antihero-adjacent characters are.

Have you seen the Top of the Lakes? The Elizabeth Moss character isn't really an antihero, but she's pretty far from a role model and the show doesn't spend its time making apologies or excuses for her. (FWIW I thought the second season had insurmountable problems but the first was especially good.)
posted by Mothlight at 9:30 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


give me Wild or Tiny Beautiful Things over a Elizabeth Gilbert novel and I'm saying that as someone who likes Elizabeth Gilbert having heard her on a few podcasts here and there

I watched the film version of Wild and loved it. It was infuriating to watch it get passed over in favor of films like Boyhood and Birdman. And demoralizing. If a female-focused film with a great performance by a famous actress, decently known IP, and well-regarded male director couldn't get much respect...what chance did other films have?
posted by grandiloquiet at 9:33 AM on March 6 [3 favorites]


The thing I have the hardest time scratching my itch for is female characters that are written the way male antiheros and antihero-adjacent characters are. Women in TV especially are usually characterized pretty much entirely as "the person doing all the emotional labor" and that character is never the central character because doing emotional labor is boring and sucks and we all know it because we are also the ones doing it. And that also makes for a much less complex, almost entirely reactive character.

Jessica Jones! I really hope they don't screw up the second season, the way that they screwed up her character on The Defenders.
posted by eviemath at 9:33 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


This epitome of brutality, disavowed by man and devil, Mr. Acton Bell attempts in two whole volumes to delineate, and certainly he is to be congratulated on his success. As he is a man of uncommon talents, it is needless to say that it is to his subject and his dogged manner of handling it that we are to refer the burst of dislike with which the novel was received. His mode of delineating a bad character is to narrate every offensive act and repeat every vile expression which are characteristic. Hence, in Wuthering Heights, he details all the ingenuities of animal malignity, and exhausts the whole rhetoric of stupid blasphemy, in order that there may be no mistake as to the kind of person he intends to hold up to the popular gaze. Like all spendthrifts of malice and profanity, however, he overdoes the business. Though he scatters oaths as plentifully as sentimental writers do interjections, the comparative parsimony of the great novelists in this respect is productive of infinitely more effect. It must be confessed that this coarseness, though the prominent, is not the only characteristic of the writer. His attempt at originality does not stop with the conception of [Heathcliff], but he aims further to exhibit the action of the sentiment of love on the nature of the being whom his morbid imagination has created. This is by far the ablest and most subtile portion of his labours, and indicates that strong hold upon the elements of character, and that decision of touch in the delineation of the most evanescent qualities of emotion, which distinguish the mind of the whole family. For all practical purposes, however, the power evinced in Wuthering Heights is power thrown away. Nightmares and dreams, through which devils dance and wolves howl, make bad novels.
Some early reviews of the Brontë novels -- when reviewers believed Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights had been written by men so they were obviously hard-hitting gritty novels about sin, not romances at all.
posted by sukeban at 9:33 AM on March 6 [29 favorites]


I too was surprised it took so long for the author to mention Top of the Lake, which might have been a fairer comparison to True Detective, if she weren't dedicated to seeing HBO productions as the end-all of artistic merit.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:38 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


Is it too off-topic to ask what are some good shows or movies on Netflix that I might have skipped because of the Male Glance?

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
posted by Pendragon at 9:39 AM on March 6 [5 favorites]


That would be a great use of AskMetafilter! ... Yes please do!

Asked.
posted by straight at 9:41 AM on March 6 [6 favorites]


This reminds me of a guy who was in a few fiction workshops with me— he ALWAYS started off from a baseline assumption that stories written by women were boring and pointless and baffling. I once wrote a piece that was a parody of a specific genre (later we found out he was not familiar with that genre), and he pre-wrote a critique about how stupid and unreadable the story was. You should have seen his face when the rest of the people in the class talked about how effective the rhetorical moves were, and how inventive the unconventional structure was! He spent the time scribbling on his printed critique, and when he gave it to me later he had handwritten a follow-up, which boiled down to “I didn’t get it the first time and so I assumed you were stupid, which is probably your fault.”

Every critique he handed in for female writers boiled down to “this doesn’t match my expectations of Important Male Writing about boners and ennui, so I hate it.”

Meanwhile at least half of his stories were about pedophiles and/or teen girl sex addicts, but we were supposed to ascribe deeper meanings to those narratives because they were Serious Literature.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:48 AM on March 6 [37 favorites]


One thing my dad did right as a parent of girls was consume huge quantities of art by women as well as men. He wasn't a perfect feminist dad, but he was the one with the gorgeous editions of Austen, he was the one putting Joni Mitchell and kd lang and Alanis Morrissette on the stereo, he was the one calling us all in when it was time for Gilmore Girls, and there was never a whiff of condescension or performativity about it. This wasn't stuff he put on or read to prove a point - it's just the kind of art he likes. He took shit from his friends for listening to Joni in the 70s. I once saw him claim to a less enlightened friend that being a Joni Mitchell fan was a really effective way to get chicks back in the day, and part of me wondered if it was true, but I realized it didn't matter that much to me... because who knows, maybe that's what got him into the room, but the fact remains that he stayed there. He still listens to Joni and he's been happily married for decades.

It took me years to get my head around how rare that is. I can't imagine how much harder it would have been to be a girl in a household with a more typical dad.
posted by potrzebie at 9:49 AM on March 6 [40 favorites]


Whenever someone asks me if I watch certain shows, and I say “not enough girls in it” they always find the one female character and argue that I’m wrong. But I don’t want one female character. I am an adult woman living in the year 2018 and my consolation Princess Leia should be a long gone memory. There shouldn’t be any shows where you have to struggle to think of female characters, or persons of color, or queers, or people with disabilities. I don’t want to see cis hetero men do anything, ever again in my life.
When I say I only watch shows with “girls in it” I mean it. I don’t want to see anything that doesn’t have dynamic interesting well developed female relationships with each other, not men. I want them to be wearing cute clothes and I want them to talk about their feelings. I want to see them having conversations about things they are experts in, being the best in their business and I don’t want them to have to be “balancing it all with a family” either.
posted by complaina at 10:11 AM on March 6 [55 favorites]


Obligatory note: no one is required to like Yoko Ono, but you do need to take her seriously.

Yes. I dismissed Yoko for years for the whole "broke up the Beatles/caterwauling non-singer/her art is a joke" narrative. When I finally started interrogating that bullshit, I realized, holy shit, this woman just may be one of the stealth geniuses of the postwar era.
posted by the return of the thin white sock at 10:20 AM on March 6 [15 favorites]


I think Broad City is one of the funniest/best produced TV shows to hit the air in the last few years-- but I'm a guy, i somehow do feel a sense that the show can only be a guilty pleasure for me (as opposed to if I was a woman), or that I shouldn't tell my guy friends that I like the show.
posted by vs at 10:21 AM on March 6


Top of the Lake- now there's a show with some strong male characters.

It was one of the best of these golden age TV shows, on it's own terms, which are more women focused. But I do adore how it reverses gender assumptions in a subtle ways, rather than just kickass-antihero-is-a-girl ways.
posted by bendybendy at 10:32 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


Can we also talk about the Male Ear ... ? Ryan Adams on covering the entirety of Taylor Swift's 1989:
"I was listening to that record and thinking, 'I hear more,'" he says. ... "I knew that if I sang them from my perspective and in my voice, they would transform. I thought, 'Let me record 1989 like it was Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska.'"
posted by libraryhead at 10:32 AM on March 6 [23 favorites]


See also the respect that the "maker movement" gets vs the way "take up knitting" is used as an insult.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:33 AM on March 6 [34 favorites]


also Bono's Male Ear
posted by bendybendy at 10:35 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


The thing I have the hardest time scratching my itch for is female characters that are written the way male antiheros and antihero-adjacent characters are.

Shaw on Person of Interest was a bit like that but in order to justify it they had to pretend she was an actual honest-to-god personality-disordered sociopath, even though most of the supporting evidence for that was that she didn't laugh at jokes she thought weren't funny, didn't smile when she wasn't happy, and didn't like to be emotionally demonstrative in the subservient way that facilitates good feeling and fellowship when attractive women do it in mixed company.

and uh also shot people all the time, often to death. but everybody else on the show did the same thing at least as much. Shaw was mainly singled out as differently fucked up for not being visibly wrenched apart by it in the manner of jesus caviezel with his signs and groans.

anyway the justification for her getting to be tough and mean was deeply ridiculous and the only good thing I can say for that aspect was that having a female character announce herself as the proud bearer of an Axis II personality disorder but then have her be antisocial rather than borderline probably counts as a twist. but if you ignore that side of things along with any visual elements you may consider to be artifacts of a male gaze, she was just tough, stoic, amoral, violent, and generally not sorry about it. so there's that.

a truly terrible show. but like you say, female characters like that are so rare even in superpowered ultraviolent shows & movies that they can make you put up with a lot.
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:38 AM on March 6 [8 favorites]


Just walking through my recent reads on Goodreads, of the last 20 books I rated 4- or 5-star, 12 are by women (and a few of the rest have female protagonists or are otherwise feminine-coded "family dramas"), and basically all the stuff I rated 1- or 2-star is studly-dude crap. Not that I think I'm some woke bro or whatever; I'm just realizing that "men's stories," for whatever that means, writ large, don't interest me much

I did "No books by straight white cis men" in 2017 and found my reading life to be greatly improved for it; you might try the same. It's pretty new to be allowing them back into my life again, but I think one thing it helped me develop was a category of "white guy crap" that I can now see more clearly and view pretty skeptically. Military histories, political histories, novels where the protagonist is an aging writer who has sex with younger women. I like sports and science fiction, but a lot of that writing can get thrown in here too. "No more white guy crap" is a good ongoing rule for me, I think.
posted by Kwine at 10:40 AM on March 6 [14 favorites]


I always thought Girls was a great show because the characters were cringingly awful and yet I related to them SO MUCH, in ways that made me deeply uncomfortable.

On a personal level, I can’t even count how many times a man has realized well into a conversation with me that I’ve been making jokes the whole time. “Oh, you’re FUNNY!” Uh, yes, thanks for finally listening to the words that are coming out of my mouth.

And yes, I think nitpicking the specific examples in this essay is rather proving the point and not engaging with the overall idea; although it’s interesting to hear more about the specific examples because I’m not familiar with most of them, declaring them bad and making that final feels like just a variation of a tone arguement: “You’re saying this in the wrong way, so I refuse to listen any further.”

A casual conversation from years and years ago that’s always stuck with me was when I referred to the music of Grimes as a guilty pleasure. The person I was talking to (a dude, to give him credit) just looked at me in that faux-confusion and asked “Why?” Good call, man. Because I didn’t take her seriously but hadn’t even realized.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 10:58 AM on March 6 [19 favorites]


Girls was massively popular, extensively dissected and totally not ignored at all. Everybody knows about that show, and it is OK to have opinions about it that don't amount to "it was an amazing piece of genius art."

She neither claims that it was ignored nor that everyone should like it:

The only female-centric show to have received comparable critical attention—some of it unwarranted—is Girls.
posted by Mavri at 11:00 AM on March 6 [7 favorites]


This reminds me of a guy who was in a few fiction workshops with me— he ALWAYS started off from a baseline assumption that stories written by women were boring and pointless and baffling.

Oh gawd I remember this guy in college. We were in an English lit class together. Our last assignment could be either a creative writing project or a research project. The piece I wrote was a mashup of Dear Abby, Emma by Jane Austen, and Don Quixote. I was the only person in the whole class who went with a creative piece. This dude kept critiquing my lack of references to the source material and stuff like that. He was so mad I had no direct quotes from Emma and DQ, even though what I was doing was imitating their style. He got very emotional. It was bizarre. In fact, in small groups designed to work out some of the kinks before the final version, he told me to scrap it because it made no sense and didn't fulfill the project requirements. I had a small panic and sent it to my professor who absolutely loved it and thought it might someday be publishable. We had to read our pieces aloud and the professor laughed heartily all the way through mine.
posted by Emmy Rae at 11:11 AM on March 6 [22 favorites]


On a personal level, I can’t even count how many times a man has realized well into a conversation with me that I’ve been making jokes the whole time. “Oh, you’re FUNNY!” Uh, yes, thanks for finally listening to the words that are coming out of my mouth.

Oh my god, this so hard. Except most of the time they don't even come to the realization that you're making a joke, they just think you're stupid. I use this example a lot, I've probably said it here before, but I'm going to say it again because it's such a neat encapsulation of the whole thing: last year I mentioned labeling a map "minor threat" instead of "small threat" and immediately a dude popped in to be like "did you know that is also the name of a band?" Buddy, that's the joke.

I know I'm not as funny as I think I am, and I know many of my jokes don't land, but how many of them are just not funny and how many of them are just dismissed entirely because they're coming out of my mouth and not a man's?
posted by everybody had matching towels at 11:11 AM on March 6 [34 favorites]


Except most of the time they don't even come to the realization that you're making a joke, they just think you're stupid.

Ugh, yes! Multiple times recently I have met men (for work stuff) who joke around. I joke around in the same vein. They very seriously explain to me that they were only joking. Yes, I say, so was I. They re-explain that they were only joking. I make a mental note that they don't get jokes, and we move on. Perhaps if they work with me for years they will eventually hear the rumors that I am funny and come around to figure it out for themselves.
posted by Emmy Rae at 11:15 AM on March 6 [23 favorites]


I know I'm not as funny as I think I am, and I know many of my jokes don't land, but how many of them are just not funny and how many of them are just dismissed entirely because they're coming out of my mouth and not a man's?

This is wrong, you are extremely funny and all of your jokes land.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:26 AM on March 6 [15 favorites]


a fiendish thingy, I think every fiction workshop has that guy. Or the variant "Dude Extremely Bitter About His Divorce and His Female Character is Going to Suffer for It."
posted by emjaybee at 11:32 AM on March 6 [9 favorites]


Multiple times recently I have met men (for work stuff) who joke around. I joke around in the same vein. They very seriously explain to me that they were only joking. Yes, I say, so was I. They re-explain that they were only joking.

Ugh, gawd, all the time.
posted by joannemerriam at 11:36 AM on March 6 [7 favorites]


I've never had a big problem with men not getting that I'm joking around. It's not because I'm lucky. It's because of my pants size. I get to be funny because I'm not sexy.

(Lose weight? What, and leave show business?)
posted by Countess Elena at 11:45 AM on March 6 [26 favorites]


> Multiple times recently I have met men (for work stuff) who joke around. I joke around in the same vein. They very seriously explain to me that they were only joking. Yes, I say, so was I. They re-explain that they were only joking.

>Ugh, gawd, all the time.


Oh gods thank you Emmy Rae for articulating this weirdly-specific phenomenon and joannemerriam for affirming that it's not just me, it happens SO OFTEN.
posted by desuetude at 11:46 AM on March 6 [11 favorites]


That happens to me too with jokes.

It’s like. I know you’re taking the piss from me dear coworker, and I am taking the piss from you too...

Fortunately several of the men I regularly work with, have after a few years working with me, come to understand that pretty much anything I say will carry my dry as fuck deadpan humor and hearing them cracking up and seeing them smile as we try to solve hard as fuck and stressful work problems brings much-needed levity to an otherwise high pressure work environment.

I wish more men I work with were like that.
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:49 AM on March 6 [5 favorites]


hahaa, I was joking when I said I was joking!
posted by I-Write-Essays at 11:56 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


The worst thing for me is that my jokes have wound up with my boss deciding that I actually do view absolutely everything in black and white terms without nuance, because I tend to hyperbolize when I'm joking.

I. I wish I was joking that time.
posted by sciatrix at 12:05 PM on March 6 [13 favorites]


The thing I have the hardest time scratching my itch for is female characters that are written the way male antiheros and antihero-adjacent characters are. Women in TV especially are usually characterized pretty much entirely as "the person doing all the emotional labor" and that character is never the central character because doing emotional labor is boring and sucks and we all know it because we are also the ones doing it. And that also makes for a much less complex, almost entirely reactive character.

I recommend the character of Barbara in the Inspector Lynley series for this itch. She DGAF.
posted by bq at 12:22 PM on March 6 [3 favorites]


This is how we approach male vs. female work.
Good thoughts here, but lots of "we" in the article.

I could be all garrrr about this, since my first reaction was "We who?" Is that some guy with a mouse in his pocket, 'cause it sure aint me, but then I just sighed and decided it was time to move on...
posted by BlueHorse at 12:32 PM on March 6


That's addressed, btw. From the article: It might be objected, at this point, that I’ve been churlishly dismissing all the intellectually generous watchers and readers of female-centric stories.

In other words, who is this “we” I keep talking about? I don’t belong to that we!

I don’t want to theorize this too heavily. Suffice it to say that the we I’m talking about is the we every American, regardless of gender or class or race, is trained to identify with from the moment they start consuming media. It’s a we that doesn’t quite include the individual—in fact, it routinely invites the consumer to identify against herself—but it’s a very real we without whom that individual would be unable to understand or navigate her culture. It’s a version of Du Bois’s double consciousness: “It is a peculiar sensation…this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”

posted by everybody had matching towels at 12:36 PM on March 6 [19 favorites]


Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

I think the problem I have with both this and Girls isn’t that I’m incapable of understanding what it’s doing, but rather that I don’t think, in a time of rising sexism and misogyny, the most pressing need for representation is awful female characters that men can point to and say “see women are just like that.”
posted by corb at 1:15 PM on March 6 [5 favorites]


The best way of responding is to draw attention to the art that is going without due recognition because of this phenomenon: something I feel Mefi deserves a small pat on the back for doing, as I personally have been alerted to many good things by underappreciated artists here.
posted by Segundus at 1:29 PM on March 6 [2 favorites]


I haven’t read a work of fiction by a white male in years. This has been no hardship. But I wasn’t always like this. I spent my childhood and teen years reading almost exclusively “great” and “classic” and “masculine” fiction by men, because I had an exceedingly high tolerance for it then (I’m AFAB but don’t identify as female, which probably had something to do with it.) It’s not like I didn’t used to enjoy this stuff. My own teenage writing was infected with performative masculinity- whiskey, knife fights, stoicism! - because I thought that was how you were supposed to do literature.

Well, I half-heartedly began skimming Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather” last night, and was completely gobsmacked at how terribly gross it was. The grunting, performative masculinity of the entire thing would have almost been funny if I wasn’t aware of the underlying meaning of the nastiness. (Highlight: the bit where a character laments that some women start having sex at 12 and are “all fucked out by twenty,” that was a winner). I used to be able to breeze right by casual misogyny and grody sex scenes penned by men, just a few years ago.

But I’ve completely lost the ability: it’s now impossible for me not to notice that this extremely specific, hyper-masculine, hyper-sexualized and heterosexual world view was somehow considered the mundane norm in our literature for the past century or so. White men in so much of our respected and well-known literature get complex motivations, and everyone else gets poorly-drawn caricatures. Even in so much 20th-century literature that’s supposedly “daring” and ‘“creative”: you find this lazy shit from lazy men who lack a functional theory of mind, so much of it reverting to the same tiresome ideas about boring but fertile women, uppity broads with primordially sexy instincts who just need a smack in the face, horrible racial stereotypes, on and on.

And everyone who wasn’t a white heterosexual male with an unseemly obsession with his own sexual potency was expected to be quiet, to not say anything about the weirdness of it all. A gorilla wandering across the basketball court unnoticed, indeed. In the process of finally noticing what everyone else is saying, the specific weirdness of letting hyper-macho masculinity be the default state of humanity in literature has become screamingly obvious to me. I think a lot of people who used to just sort of put up with virile-white-man literature are experiencing something similiar these days, and I’m happy about that.
posted by faineg at 1:38 PM on March 6 [26 favorites]


I half-heartedly began skimming Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather” last night, and was completely gobsmacked at how terribly gross it was.

Yeah, it's an incredibly gross book. Definitely a case of the films far surpassing the source material (not that they're not chock-full of performative masculinity as well, but they're still actually great films, whereas the book is pretty trashy).
posted by the return of the thin white sock at 1:53 PM on March 6 [4 favorites]


soren_lorensen, it's not a drama, but Schitt's Creek has Catherine O'Hara playing Moira Rose, a self-absorbed, decidedly non-maternal former soap-opera actress, the matriarch of a family of newly-penurious narcissists. (Unsurprisingly, O'Hara is brilliant and hilarious, and the easy chemistry with Eugene Levy, after so many years of collaboration, is a constant delight. Moira's extensive wig collection is just a bonus.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:04 PM on March 6 [3 favorites]


Reading this, I was struck by my recent rewatch of "Casino", and how very different the film would've had to be if there was any voiceover by Ginger (Sharon Stone's character). With the voiceovers from DeNiro's and Pesci's characters, we know why they're doing some of their stuff - even the incomprehensibly stupid stuff - but Stone's character is an unknowable cipher of random plot-twisting.

Less well-regarded, too, I saw "Oblivion" (which was not great, but better than my low expectations), and thought it really didn't look at what I found to be the interesting questions - what does Victoria, the stay-at-home partner of Cruise's character know? What does she suspect? How much of a dark bargain has she made or what is she ignoring in an attempt to get what she wants?
posted by rmd1023 at 2:37 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


I think a lot of the world's problems would diminish if all children (which includes boys of course) were read stories with actual female heroines rather than just pretty girls waiting for some hero to make her a princess. I mean that sincerely.

There are a lot of males in the world that divide the human race into two groups- 1) Human beings like me aka(men) and 2) Items that I may or may not want to stick my penis into.

This seems to be especially common among men who didn't grow up around a lot of women. As someone with 3 sisters I remember feeling a little weird when the other boys at school would start talking about girls as if they weren't even people. When we listen to/watch/read a story we tend to put ourselves in the place of the protagonist. Most if not all the stories children are exposed to have male protagonists. This means that girls grow up knowing what it feels like to put themselves in the place of the male protagonist, but boys do not get the same experience with a female protagonist. Which is probably why movie producers feel they cannot sell stories with strong females as well. It's a chain reaction that can probably be linked to all sorts of reasons as to why certain forms of art isn't taken seriously all the way to why society sucks in general.
posted by fantasticness at 3:35 PM on March 6 [16 favorites]


I wonder how the show Daria fits into all this.
posted by gucci mane at 3:44 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


The thing I have the hardest time scratching my itch for is female characters that are written the way male antiheros and antihero-adjacent characters are.

Have you watched Sally Wainwright's shows? Last year I made a concerted effort to primarily give my viewing time to shows where at least 2 of [show-runner, director, main character] were female, and "Last Tango in Halifax" and "Happy Valley" were my favourites. I liked "Scott & Bailey" quite a lot too. I deeply wish Sally Wainwright a long, long productive life!
posted by lastobelus at 4:29 PM on March 6


I refuse to give up my dislike of Eat Pray Love.

One of my proudest achievements as a parent is that my two sons will happily choose books with female protagonists.
posted by bq at 4:55 PM on March 6 [2 favorites]


Orphan Black
posted by Jacqueline at 4:57 PM on March 6 [3 favorites]


I really enjoyed Damages not least because Rose Byrne has a rotating cast of anonymous boyfriends who don’t get any lines, and who act as set dressing while she deals with real problems in her life.

I’ve been in love wth Hedda Gabler because of her unlikeability since I was 14.
posted by lizifer at 5:31 PM on March 6 [3 favorites]


Re kid books, there are LOTS of non-princess books now. We are reading our way through His Dark Materials series, and Lyra is a great protagonist. Also recommend: Cynthia Voigt, Homecoming, with a tough as nails but believable female lead.

Seriously there are lots. We've barely even bothered with traditional fairy tales, because there were so many other good stories to read that weren't about how awesome it was to be a monarch and/or marry one.
posted by emjaybee at 6:28 PM on March 6 [2 favorites]


Just barely on topic: the author of Eat, Pray, Love has a sister, Catherine Gilbert Murdock, who has written an extremely awesome YA series beginning with Dairy Queen, starring a girl who joins her Wisconsin high school's football team while helping to run the family dairy farm. It takes on a lot of things from women/girls in sports to size and body image, class issues, serious injury and recovery, coming out, and family dynamics, and does it with flair and humor and great satisfaction. Highly recommended if Elizabeth Gilbert is not your thing.
posted by huimangm at 7:02 PM on March 6 [4 favorites]


"I am always infuriated by the dismissal of womens’ novels as being too “domestic,” as if nothing serious can be done in such a small space. "

It's also instructive to take a flip through an encyclopedia of philosophy, where you will often find 40 pages on the ethics of warfare and one -- if that! -- on children, childrearing, parenting, etc. The place where 100% of humans start out -- being children! -- and where a huge chunk of our learning and knowledge and perception begins is just almost totally ignored. Similarly, if you read classical ethicists, they have a hundred zillion things to say about ethics in the public sphere, but basically nothing to say about ethics in the domestic or family sphere, sometimes going so far as to say that ethical education for boys begins when they enter their father's domain, and that as children they're taught nursery religion by their mothers and it's ignorable. THE ETHICAL FORMATION OF ALL OF HUMANITY AS CHILDREN COULD BE SAFELY IGNORED BECAUSE MOMS WERE IN CHARGE OF IT! Also why ethics is historically weirdly unconcerned with domestic violence but super-interested in random dudes having fistfights in the marketplace.

To illustrate, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has longer articles on the ethics of search engines and on law and language than on ALL philosophy relating to childhood. Both have more related articles linked than philosophy of childhood, too!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:27 PM on March 6 [51 favorites]


Call the Midwife is a fantastic show centered on the most domestic female concern possible -- childbirth -- within a female-centered milieu of midwives, featuring the most realistic female friendships and relationships I've ever seen on screen, involving huge ethical quandaries, and then turning to small human dramas about balancing work and life, figuring out how to be a professional woman, keeping up with fashion, finding a man (or woman!) who doesn't suck, etc.

And as always I will stan for Anne of Green Gables, the first bildungsroman with a female protagonist and a deliberately feminist work, if I may quote myself:
"In traditional European symbolism, men get associated with sky and spirit, women with earth and body. In the long, lyrical passages that describe the beauty of Prince Edward Island, Montgomery begins with the trees and the flowers -- which she scoured Canadian and American sources to find feminine vernacular names for -- like "Lady's Slipper." ... She was deliberately locating the feminine in the flowers and then -- in just about every passage describing flowers at length -- she expands the focus to the sky. Sunsets, stars, sunrises, clouds, all of that symbolically extends Anne from the bodily world of the earth into the spiritual and intellectual world symbolized by the sky. A traditionally masculine world. It's deliberately transgressive. She isn't just waxing poetic about the vast beauty of Canada; she's locating Anne within a symbolic structuring of the world where Anne, crucially, has an emotional and intellectual life that is put on an equal plane with traditional masculine coming-of-age stories ... but without denigrating the femininity of the earth. She also applies flower words to the sky itself, describing its colors as "marigold" and "saffron" and so on. ... She uses a symbolic structure of Earth Mother/Sky Father that dates back to Plato and that reaches its full flower (heh) in the Romantic poets that Anne loves -- in order to subvert it and locate women and men on an equal footing, and to make the claim for young women reaching for the profoundly-metaphorical stars."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:36 PM on March 6 [18 favorites]


I'n a woman. I'm a feminist. I write books. I read a lot too, mainly genre books by women, and I have as long as I can remember. But women can write books that suck too.

Recently, I've been reading lots of older gothics and historical fiction, and books like Angelique by Anne Golon and Anya Seton's Green Darkness are just... filled with loathsome characters and vile internalized misogyny. (I had to take a break from Angelique by reading Remember Me from Christopher Pike, of all people. Which, although not a great book, was a was a delightful change of pace. Whew.)

Internalized misogyny isn't the only problem I've run into. Let's not even get into the appalling homophobia in Marilyn Harris's Bledding Sorrow (the gay villain, an unprincipled doctor, is literally the most evil man alive, one who loves to rape sleeping patients), and Laura Kinsale's Seize the Fire also featured some really disgusting racism-- comparing a POC character to a monkey. Good God.

Sometimes I find a book written by an author I was really excited about isn't racist, sexist, homophobic, offensive, or stupid; it's just dull. For example, I heard great things about Indigo by Beverly Jenkins, but the pacing was glacial, the hero was annoying, and there was a weird lack of urgency for a novel set during the Underground Railroad.

On books written in this century, I tried to read Nisi Shawl's Everfair, and that was just... mediocre. Ugh.

On the bright side, I reread Virginia Coffman's The Dark Palazzo, which is fantastic even on reread, and Connie Willis's To Say Nothing of the Dog is one of the best books I've read in a year. In 2017, Jeannie Lin's The Jade Temptress and Roberta Gellis's Enchanted Fire were also highlights, and I loved Margaret George's The Confessions of Young Nero. The Tearling trilogy by Erika Johansen was also a standout.

So yeah. Whether written by a man or woman, I would say Sturgeon's Law still applies. 90% of everything is crap.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 3:14 AM on March 7


I watched The Killing (US) not because I am way into puzzle box murder mysteries (I'm not) but because Sarah Linden is doing emotional labor for no one. She's taciturn, complicated, not the world's best mom, kind of a mess but not in that "lol I day drink wine and spent my car payment money on having my nails done tee hee!" way that women are often portrayed as "messes" on TV, and it was so refreshing to me.

[The Fall with Gillian Anderson]
posted by srboisvert at 5:29 AM on March 7 [5 favorites]


I tried to get into The Fall, but at least the first two episodes were way too into the psychology of the killer, who was pretty much a cut-rate reject from a particularly boring episode Criminal Minds. I understand that a lot of people like Gillian Anderson's character from that show, but there's just so much boring dude nonsense it made me sit through before getting any of the good stuff.
posted by tobascodagama at 6:30 AM on March 7 [2 favorites]


Until the internet happened, I only knew of one other person in the world who appreciated [Yoko Ono]

I used to blast Yoko Ono from my college dorm room way back in the ancient times; partly because I thought she was groovy as fuck, partly because it annoyed the shit out of everyone else.

I was charmed by EPL, despite feeling that it was a collection of cliches strung together by an engaging voice. Don’t @ me.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:49 AM on March 7 [1 favorite]


John Lennon said in an interview that he thought that the B-52s sounded like Yoko.
posted by brujita at 4:13 PM on March 8


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