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[personal profile] nymeth posting in [community profile] ladybusiness
Summer Finn Miss Marple


The following post was inspired by two things: first, a conversation between Jodie and Renay about romantic plotline outcomes and epilogues on the comments of my post on The Adoration of Jenna Fox; secondly, a comment I read somewhere last week (but sadly can no longer find – I seriously should bookmark these things) about how making romance central to the plot of any novel always undermines the female characters.

There’s a phrase the three of us have been repeating in our behind-the-scenes conversations, and which seems to be on its way to becoming a sort of unofficial motto for Lady Business: there’s no wrong way of being a girl. So although there are several legitimate concerns surrounding how many romantic plots play out, it seems pretty drastic and problematic to me to make a statement of the kind this unknown commenter made. Do we really want to add “fall in love/enter a relationship” to the list of things female characters are not supposed to do if they are to be considered proper feminist icons?

With this in mind, I wanted to analyse how different narratives I’ve encountered in the past dealt with “lady who didn’t want a relationship changed her mind” storylines, as I think these are filled with particularly good examples of my personal “dos” and “don’ts” of romance. I’ll start with my favourite negative example: Summer Finn, Zooey Deschannel’s character in (500) Days of Summer.

The reason why this movie let me down was not because Summer starts out saying she doesn’t want a serious commitment and ends up married. Regardless of my own misgivings about marriage as an institution, I find it extremely problematic to single out any one woman’s chosen course of action as a betrayal of feminist ideals or anything of the sort. I also have no issues with Summer’s inconsistency, as I think it’s only human to have contradictory feelings and wishes or to simply change one’s mind.

No, what bothers me about Summer is how the narrative frames her change of heart. It’s the fact that she sits on a park bench and tells Tom, her ex, that he was right all along. Her former views on romance were silly, misguided and naïve, whereas his ideas about destiny and soulmates were correct – it’s just that she hadn’t met the right person yet. Over the course of their conversation, Summer doesn’t just show she has changed – she belittles, erases and delegitimised her previous position. Ladies changing their minds = perfectly fine by me. Ladies who deviate from convention being shown to have been RONG all along and laughing at the folly of their past selves? Not so much.

My favourite antidote to (500) Days of Summer is probably Dorothy L. Sayers and her Harriet Vane/Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries (Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, Gaudy Night and Busman’s Honeymoon). It’s no spoiler to say the two main characters end up together, as most readers go in already knowing that. What surprises people (and what is an absolute joy to discover and savour) is the how of it. Yes, Harriet Vane begins be rejecting marriage and then changes her mind, but this doesn’t happen through a rejection of her previous stance. It happens through a slow and careful negotiation of each of her concerns about entering a relationship (which are further complicated due to issues of class, money and dominant views of employment for women in the 1930’s). These concerns are never shown not to have been legitimate – quite the contrary. And it’s exactly this that makes the romance so satisfying from a feminist perspective.

I can think of other single heroines who end up paired up, such as Amelia Peabody or Alexia Tarabotti from Soulless, and whose stories don’t bother me in the least. Again, nothing about how the novels frame their transition from singledom to coupledom dismisses or delegitimises their previous lifestyle, and that’s all I really ask for.

Having said that, I completely understand people being frustrated with the inevitability of heroines like Amelia Peabody or Alexia ending up in relationships, especially in a world where so few stories feature single heroines and show them to be leading happy and fulfilling lives. And here we enter representation issues territory. I think this kind of thing does matter. I think it matters a whole lot. But. At the same time, what Jodie was saying recently resonates with me more and more. Yes, we need more ladies doing and being everything. But I don’t want to hold what doesn’t exist against any single female character. The problem is in the pattern more than in any individual story (problematic issues like the ones surrounding Summer aside, of course). Let us demand more ladies, but preferably without hating on the ones that already exist. It’s not that they’re doing anything wrong, or that the solution to our current problems is to despise or erase their more traditional choices.

I’m an unapologetic sucker for a good love story, yet all the same I really don’t want romantic relationships to be held up as the end-all and be-all of every woman’s existence. But saying that they all weaken or undermine female characters? Creating even more rules that limit what women can do, be or experience? Let us not go down that road, please.


*By which I mostly mean ladies entering relationships and opting for whatever arrangements they choose. It just so happens that all the examples I’m analysing here do involve marriage.

Date: 2011-08-01 10:27 pm (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
So much Right here! It's a total derail to say that all romantic relationships are undermining female characters, as it doesn't help advance us any further on towards a truely equal feminist society. Hurray for any cry for a move towards creating more non-traditional narratives involving women, but (and I feel like quite the skipping record) ALL THE STORIES NOW AND FOREVER PLEASE!

I guess people worry, because the entertainment money pot is shrinking, so many creators are still so attracted by the shiny metal trap of traditional narrative and it's hard to see yourself, or your friends going unrepresented in media(please I can haz more single women, please ever so much?). The married, or romanced women seem to sell so well and may seem to take all the space the single female characters might have obtained and people get angry. It's just that anger often gets directed at the wrong things. It makes much more sense (although I have been the angry person and it can be hard to see sense) to blame the societal structures that put us in these sorts of messes.

Date: 2011-08-02 05:07 am (UTC)
renay: Pink pony with brown hair and wings on a yellow background bucking hind legs in the air. (Default)
From: [personal profile] renay
Ugh, I love this post. I am starting to think we need to just make a bingo card because we continue to come across these threads in the media we're consuming that we didn't see before, but now we do (I also get introduced to lots of them via Feminist Frequency). I have seen feminist bingo cards before, for arguments sake and 101 discussions but never one with problematic aspects of media listed (we would call this one "no wrong way to be a girl", which I have totally added to our profile).

I am going to read Sayers now for sure. *adds to Goodreads*

Date: 2011-08-03 06:39 am (UTC)
renay: Pink pony with brown hair and wings on a yellow background bucking hind legs in the air. (Default)
From: [personal profile] renay
Yes! I will go start it! Ugh, and we can CITE THINGS, it will be amazeballs.

Date: 2011-08-02 03:21 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
This is absolutely one of my most favoritest posts ever!!!

And this: "there’s no wrong way of being a girl" is now one of most favoritest quotes ever!!!

Debi
(I can't get my openID thing to work.)

Date: 2011-08-03 06:40 am (UTC)
renay: Pink pony with brown hair and wings on a yellow background bucking hind legs in the air. (Default)
From: [personal profile] renay
Debi, I should just give you an invite code and you can be part of our cool Lady Business club. :D

Date: 2011-08-03 12:51 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Interesting. I actually quite like books featuring female protagonists who end up in a romantic relationship at the end, though of course the relationship itself has to be believable for it to be alright. However, if I think about it, the reason why I like reading about the formation of a romantic relationship is because I like reading about characters form ties or bonds with people. With female protagonists, authors tend to generally fall back on a romantic relationship as the important, developing bond the protagonist experiences, which I do think is something of a problem. I guess my point is, I like reading about people forming meaningful and lasting relationships, be they romantic, friendship, familial, anything. I agree, not all books need to have their female protagonists fall in love in each book, but even if they remain romantically single, I still want to read about them forging connections with other people.

Date: 2011-08-03 01:07 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] aartichapati.blogspot.com
Ooh, good post. I also don't like when girls act as though their previous stances were silly, just because they changed their minds. Granted, sometimes they WERE silly, but not always. I don't think that girls should always end up in relationships, either, and I don't mean to say that single girls are the best girls, but somehow, when I *do* see a girl end a story alone, I feel a special kinship with her. For example, I recently read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and the main character is wonderful but not boy-dependent and I just breathed a great sigh of happiness for her being happy without a boy. That's not to say that a girl ending up with a guy is necessarily DEPENDENT on him, but it's still nice to see girls happily single. That could, of course, be because I myself am single, and like to see a happy, contented life for myself in future if I continue upon this path.

Date: 2011-08-03 05:44 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] myfriendamysblog.com
Love this post! I don't know how you always manage to find the balance but you do.

I love romance a lot, but sometimes I think what can happen, I especially observe this on TV, is that a romance can end up being what a female character is all about...she becomes a love interest first and character on her own right second. (I stole this from a friend but I think it's true) And in some ways this is inevitable, I suppose, for example I was never upset on LOST that Sun and Jin didn't really have stories that were separate from each other, they were introduced as a married couple so naturally their stories went side by side.

But say on a show like Gossip Girl or Bones, I've watched female characters who were interesting and unique and different become chained to a love story and their characterization suffer as a result. It's especially frustrating for me with these two shows and with TV in general because I cared about those characters first and foremost as individual characters. Which isn't to say that at some point I didn't also enjoy the love story, but the nature of TV writing is to create drama and tension and try to drag these things out and so you get character regression and OOC moments and all kinds of other stuff, ugh I don't want to get too spoilery, but it's frustrating to me and I can see how whatever comment that is you read that can't find sort of applies in these situations.

I remember reading an Amish fiction once where the character was single and I was so happy because I'd never contemplated what that would be like for someone in a community like that. She claimed to be happy and content with her life and then she met someone and realized there was a happiness she never knew and she'd been lying to herself all those years. I was so disappointed because...well I know you sort of feel like that when you fall in love at first, that the world feels new and you feel alive in a different way, but that didn't mean she'd been lying to herself...she could have been genuinely content before one doesn't cancel out the other, IMO.

Anyway this is super rambly but you're always so good at finding the place of tension to exist in and this post made me think a lot.

Date: 2011-08-03 10:19 am (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
It's the 'when you meet the one, you'll realise marriage is for you' argument. The one thing I really dislike about being single is not having enough authority in the eyes of others to dispute that stance. Even though I know my own mind and marriage isn't for me I'll never get anyone to believe me unless I meet a guy, settle down and then don't get married. Incredibly frustating.

Date: 2011-08-03 10:15 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
yes it's exactly that. I can't know because I'm single. but that doesn't mean I haven't had relationships where I was deeply in love that didn't work out for whatever reasons (yes that happens in life!) and I honestly feel like there are benefits to both, but yeah people would say because I haven't met THE ONE that those don't count. --Amy

Date: 2011-10-07 06:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] emsalcove.blogspot.com
"There’s no wrong way of being a girl" – I totally agree! We should have t-shirts made.

Date: 2011-10-08 05:02 am (UTC)
renay: Pink pony with brown hair and wings on a yellow background bucking hind legs in the air. (Default)
From: [personal profile] renay
I would so wear that shirt if it existed.

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