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On Individual Characters vs. Broad Trends


HeavyMetalSunshineSister

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I have recently seen an instance in which a single female character was portrayed overreacting to something. The scenario was played for laughs, and while a good amount of time could be spent going over the joke itself and why it was or was not funny, a more important issue is some of the criticism that the joke received - that having this character, who was female, overreact in an emotional manner, was sexist. That it implied the attitude that all women were prone to overemotional reactions.

 

This, I believe, is a flawed judgment, for the reason that some individual women are, in fact, prone to overemotional reactions.

 

This is not because they are women.

 

This is because they are human, with any of an assortment of personality quirks that come along with that condition. I know more than a few men who are prone to such an overreaction.

 

And perhaps, one might say, it would have been better to use a male character for that role - to make a man overreact instead of a woman, to deter the accusations of sexism.

 

I disagree. Women are approximately fifty percent of the human population, and it is probable that approximately fifty percent of overemotional freakouts are had by women. Simply because years of consistent portrayals of a trait as a quality exclusive to women has made it a sensitive subject does not mean that this trait can never again be ascribed to women in fiction, nor does the ascribing of such a trait to one character mean that the writer is sexist. For that to happen ,the writer has to consistently portray the majority of their female characters as overemotional basket-cases - have a look at a good many sitcom writers if you need an example. Having one character with this trait is not sexism, it's having a character with believable human qualities - or, in the case of some works of amateur comedy, somewhat unbelievable human qualities. Even exaggerating these traits to absurdity in one case, however, does not make the writer a sexist - anymore than making a male character an unbelievably smug windbag suggests a belief that all men are cartoonishly smug windbags.

 

When writing fiction, it isn't healthy to constantly be looking over your shoulder to make sure that nothing you write could possibly offend someone. Just write natural characters that fit the story you're writing. And even if you can't do that, a bad joke doesn't make you a bigot - perhaps a bit thoughtless, and certainly not a master comedian, but not necessarily a bigot.

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Stereotypes come from a combination of incidents. Everything that depicts it is part of the problem.

 

And no fiction is made in a vacuum.

 

Keep that in mind.

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Stereotypes come from a combination of incidents. Everything that depicts it is part of the problem.

 

And no fiction is made in a vacuum.

 

Keep that in mind.

A stereotype in and of itself is not bad though, because it would not have become a stereotype if there were not some truth to it.

 

There is a difference between using a stereotype for comedic effect and using it with the intent to hurt someone, that is what should really be kept in mind.

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Stereotypes come from a combination of incidents. Everything that depicts it is part of the problem.

 

And no fiction is made in a vacuum.

 

Keep that in mind.

A stereotype in and of itself is not bad though, because it would not have become a stereotype if there were not some truth to it.

 

There is a difference between using a stereotype for comedic effect and using it with the intent to hurt someone, that is what should really be kept in mind.

 

 

Oh my god, you did not just use the classic bigot argument, the "of course it's true, how'd you think it became a stereotype" one. I'm gonna pretend that never happened, for the sake of my sanity.

 

I'd argue that there is no distinction in the cases you listed. It promotes compartmentalized thinking about wide demographics. That is inherently hurtful.

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Saying that there can be no depiction of any incidents of something, ever, because that thing has become a somewhat bothersome stereotype, is completely and obviously wrong. Authors of fiction have no responsibility to make sure that all of their characters are paragons of non-stereotypical virtue. It's fine to get angry at someone whose works by themselves describe a trend of harmful stereotyping, but insisting that no fictional female ever overreact in a comedic work is pushing things much too far.

 

What really makes the whole thing bizarre is the insistence of critics of the work in question that the fact that the character was based upon a friend of the author who does have a tendency for such overreactions - though, obviously, not on the scale presented in the work* - makes no difference. The claim that, in fiction partly based upon reality, maintaining that connection to the people, places and events that inspired the work comes second to ensuring that the work is politically correct, is an odious and unnecessary burden upon creators of fiction.

 

*Which is fine. Comedic exaggeration is not a sin.

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