Women in Fiction

This semester I have the pleasure of taking a Gender and Text class as part of my grad school curriculum. This week I read “Company of Wolves” by Angela Carter and Dorothy Allison’s Two of Three Things I Know for Sure.  “Company of Wolves” tells a series of wolf legends, culminating with the Red Riding Hood story, which is a bit more…adult… than the childhood version I’m familiar with.  In one of the legends, a woman marries a man who stupidly goes outside to pee (this is the old days and he didn’t want to use a bucket in front of her) and never comes back. She eventually remarries and has two kids. The first guy miraculously comes back, years later, and immediately demands that she start waiting on him hand and foot. Apparently while he was gone he got turned into a werewolf because, when he discovers she’s been “unfaithful”, he turns back into a wolf and bites the foot off one of her children. The new husband chops him to death but then beats his wife because she’s in tears over the whole thing.  Interesting.  Not a good time to be a woman (or a werewolf).

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It got me to thinking whether or not things have changed in today’s fiction, television, and film (incidentally, Fiction and Film is my other class this term). Are today’s women totally at the mercy of men or are they more likely to be the centers of the action? And, when they are the main character, are they silly and frivolous like in I Love Lucy or do they have something intelligent to say and something important to do?

I think we have a mixed bag nowadays. For example, my two favorite shows are Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder (especially How To Get Away With Murder).  Olivia from Scandal has somehow shrunk in her professional capacity. The story line lately has focused more and more on the two men in her life, and her inability to choose between them (Frankly, one is married and the other one loves her and is red hot – Scott Foley I’m talking to you, boo! – so the decision would be easy for me). Anyway, the show used to focus on her job – her infinite ability to play the spin doctor and get idiotic celebrities and political figures out of embarrassing scandals. It was fascinating!

How To Get Away With Murder just wrapped up its first season. Analise is a bad-ass lawyer and professor with serious skills. She’s got a successful husband and a hot lover on the side. However, her pathetic husband and his lying, womanizing ways send her into emotional puddles of foolishness and indecision on a regular basis. Yes, love often makes us all weak, but I at least want the women on TV I admire to be stronger than me. Why not just enjoy the lover and kick the drippy husband to the curb? I’ve never had these kinds of options but I’d like to think I’d know how to use them if I did! Now, instead of using her exceptional lawyer skills to secure a quickie divorce, she has ruined her life – because now he’s dead and there’s a scandalous mess to clean up. Damn it!

Oh well. The good news is that there are more women leads on TV and in movies than ever before. More and more of them are 40+, brilliant, wealthy, and beautiful. Now if we could just get them to book a few sessions with a relationship counselor, all would be well…

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