“Loud,” “Angry,” “Maneater,” “Hater Of Men.” At this point, I’ve heard it all. When it comes to labels, many women tend to avoid labeling themselves with the “F” word due to the negative connotations that society associates it with. The media plays a big role in publicizing these stereotypes, using what many like to call “The Feminist Trope.” Onscreen, feminists are mocked, their activism trivialized by their peer characters, and cast aside due to their tendency to “dramatize” the issues of the patriarchal society that are supposedly non-existant or acceptable to every other character except them. The media paints the stereotypical feminist character in an obnoxious light, making them seem unwanted, unwomanly, and frustrating. To viewers, their activism is dependant on the amount of attention they receive from men, inherently devaluing the very serious problems imbedded in our patriarchal society that feminism seeks to break down.
Honestly, having grown up around these stereotypical “revolutionary” feminist shows, it did not come as a shock when I was unable to confidently answer the question: “So, what is the feminist movement truly fighting for?” When onscreen feminists are arguing about serious matters such as the lack of gender diversity in politics or state positions of power as a whole, they are often vilified. In one of the episodes of the “Power Puff Girls,” a very prominent television show in America, the villain Femme Fatale is shown robbing a store, shouting at a banker “I want Susan B. Anthony coins,” with a gun pointed at his head. Now, I too would like to see coins with Susan B. Anthony’s face on them, but it was the way the scene was written that presents a problem. Instead of having Femme Fatale civilly protest or present her issue to the banker, she has to be dramatic, evil, and manipulative. From a viewer’s perspective, no one wants to associate themselves with the armed bank robber. I mean, would you?
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, feminism is the “organized effort to give women the same economic, social, and political rights as men.” In order to achieve such a goal, feminism focuses on understanding the influence of gender inequality in our patriarchal society and modern-day institutions, using that knowledge to campaign for social, political, and economic equality for all women. The central trait of feminist characters, however, is often their hatred of all men. This common attribute is used by producers and directors, who are often men themselves, to downplay the gravity of the feminist movement and portray feminists as angry females who are simply overreacting to non-existant issues. Critics often depict activists as comics or extremists in order to dissuade others from joining the movement as well as delegitimize the movement as a whole. This framework is used to portray many other forms of activism such as protests against racial issues, and the media is doing the same for feminism. By framing women as unreasonable man-haters, television victimizes men, and in doing so, takes away power from the real issues that feminism fights against.
This male-centered stereotype then extends to what makes a feminist character a feminist. If a female character is to be portrayed as a feminist, she can not have a male partner. If so, she is seeking male validation. Media often suggests that once a feminist attains the approval of a male, she no longer needs equal rights, as she has a partner who can do everything for her. The interest in gender equality only sprouts from the inability to attract the opposite sex. One foot is in the feminist door, while the other one is waiting for the supporting male character to pull her back into the right mindset, making her realize that her growing activism is simply unnecessary. Being a feminist is simply a quirk that women abandon when their perfect man comes along to swoop them off their feet. For example, let’s take Disney’s remake of the classic “Beauty and the Beast.” To begin with, “Beauty and the Beast” isn’t the best representation of feminism at all, but for this point, let’s take it with a grain of salt. Belle wears riding boots, declines the advances of the manly Gaston, and invents a washing machine; thus, she is, she must be, a “feminist.” However, the riding boots and the books are simply a disguise to make Belle a little more palatable to other feminist viewers. As we all know, Belle is simply a more well-rounded damsel-in-distress waiting for her man, or should I say beast, to take her away. “Oh, but don’t worry. She is still a feminist fighting against the patriarchy; she still has her books.” At least that’s what the media wants us to believe.
The way feminism is portrayed onscreen is often taking one step forward, but two steps back at the same time. I acknowledge that that one step forward is crucial to help many people realize that we do live in a patriarchal society, that there are injustices that need to be addressed more often, and that having a feminist mindset of power and knowledge is a beautiful deep-rooted mindset to have. But that’s all it is, a mindset that is not acted upon. We draw the line between our inner feminist values and public activism in fear that we will be associated with stereotypical insults that come along with the feminist label. Simply having a feminist mindset is not enough to change our society to the extent that it needs to be. Right now, those two steps back have more weight than the singular step forward. The media needs to start presenting feminism in a more serious yet welcoming light, so that people don’t fear associating themselves with a movement that is crucial to uprooting the sexist, man’s world that we live in today.