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Sexism and the limitation of imagination

After reading Olivia Wilde's statement about sexism in Hollywood, I think I felt a little sad. It's a pretty obvious thing and something not limited to sexism (though part of sexism), but it has always been a reality that you realize very early in life that your dreams and your ambitions and the stories you create mean a little less when you are a woman. You are always a supporting player. Your interior life doesn't mean as much. If you dare be anything less than a passive actor, you are subject to ridicule and derision. Stuff that is female centered is more often than not portrayed as stupid, as niche oriented, as small and not transcendent.


I was a pretty excellent little kid (if i do say so myself and it's funny, how hard it is to talk myself up, since for women, modesty is an overestimated virtue and the line between confidence and narcissism is usually seen as very fine in women). I remember being really imaginative and having an inner sense of my own awesomeness. I liked to write stories and plays and organize all the little kids in the neighborhood who I demanded adhere to my directorial vision. Man, I could have been Scorsese. I was funny. I was a classic youngest child, who depended on my gifts of cuteness and humor to entertain my family and friends. I was always told as a kid that I should have been a comedian. People in my regular life still tell me I have great comic timing.

But you do learn pretty early as a girl that your ideas don't mean much. And certainly you should never dominate any space. Often at best, you get to be the lesser female counterpart. It's like we are homunculi and not real people. And for the most part, you don't get to watch the movies or listen to music or do all sorts of things without realizing that most of the dreams and ambitions are not female, which is limiting because you don't get to see anything reflecting even an idealized version of what you may be.

I remember like most teenagers really being into music. It was the eighties and God, the sexism of hair metal was just ubiquitous. But it was supposed to be fun? Right? I remember listening to Metallica and finding them refreshing only because their music wasn't about objectifying women. You know, thrash and speed metal bands sang about other things. That's why it was doubly exciting when bands like Babes in Toyland came out in the early 90s. The music was loud and aggressive and it was from the viewpoints of women. The idea of having your POV being expressed was a much more novel experience than it should have been. And still, is much rarer of an occurrence than it should be.

But you know, the waves of women making music tend to be relatively fleeting and representing a trend and never a real paradigm shift. The same happens in movies and in literature and video games.


Television usually has been one of the few outlets that is seen as a place where women have some ongoing presence in a significant way. But even that is limiting. It's odd how refreshing a sitcom like The Middle is. The mom is a bit of a jerk who constantly screws up her life, the dad is slightly emotionally shut down, the daughter a bit of an overexcited nerd, and the sons are alternately superficial and obsessive. The difference, it's not this dumb husband and his knowing wife—everyone is flawed and the plot usually is about advancing everyone's story.

There has been a lot written about how disturbing the trope of the stupid sitcom husband is. But it's not much better for the wives—they are seen as limited, not especially flawed or interesting—certainly not people who are at the center of the story and whose emotional evolution is a point of interest. They stand at the side, in their somewhat wise way, helping their husband transform into some semblance of an adult. That's not that compelling if you are a woman. In fact, it means that your personal journey means nothing at all. And don't even get me started on dramas. I love you, Walking Dead but man, I need to see more Michonne and Carol at the center of the narrative.


And it's a bummer, right? Because it's hard to talk about it because it's like a death by a thousand cuts and not something where you can point out a single example to support your argument. That's why discussions of sexism are so easily dismissed. The single examples are often not that big of a deal. It's just the background noise of your entire life.

Picture linked "A Cat's Wild Imagination"

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