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Ponderings Review Writing

Effective feminist criticism

Often when people attempt a feminist critique of a story, they’ll focus on characteristics of the women in the story. For example, Pacific Rim‘s Mako Mori was criticized for not having much of a speaking role. This sort of criticism does no favors to feminism and actually perpetuates one of the worst aspects of patriarchy: the determination of who a woman is “supposed to be” by someone who isn’t that woman.

Just as we reject that all women must be submissive, passive, good with children, helpful to a fault, etc., we must also reject that all women must be anything. Some women are loudmouths. Some women are quiet. Some women are great with kids. Some women hate kids. Some women want to be lawyers. Some women want to be designers. Some women find nothing as fulfilling as being a homemaker. And men are the same. People have different beliefs, backgrounds, interests, and skills, and they make different decisions.

An effective feminist critique of a text, then, is not one that judges how “badass” or outspoken a female character is. Instead, it focuses on how the film portrays her life. Does she make choices? Are her choices realistically effective? She doesn’t have to be right or successful all the time. She does have to receive the same story treatment as a male character. Does she serve a purpose in the plot beyond furthering a male character’s story? Does she have her own story? Does her story make a difference in the world of the text? Is she essential, or could she be lifted right out? These are the questions to ask, not whether a female character fits some sort of template for the “modern woman”.

We are people, we are different, and we deserve to be portrayed in myriad ways. There is no catch-all character who can speak for “womankind”.