The Strong Female Character has existed in films for decades, but is making a surge in young adult literature. Such authors as Veronica Roth, Suzanne Collins, Leigh Bardugo, and Cassandra Clare tend to dominate discussions or mentions of anything related to the Young Adult genre, especially that of strong female characters. These women are part of a group of prominent female YA authors who have offered up pieces of art which empower young girls to be better than what the common media is asking them to be. Collectively, they are all accomplishing the same goal— young female characters who teach young female readers how to be bold and stand up for themselves. Although, these authors are not independently doing anything unique. In fact, there are a few articles that would argue they’re all doing mostly the same thing and that in the end it is still problematic.
It is intimidating to enter into a major that you know almost nothing about, and a major that historically has not had a great deal of women in it. When I decided on my major and announced it to my family and friends, I got a lot of confused looks. There wasn’t really a lot of excitement or congratulations. They told me “that’s a good field to get into” rather than “what a great choice for you!” This is understandable, since I do not really seem like I fit into the business world. My personality is very shy, and I have showed more aptitude for reading and writing than business. In addition, I had never really told anyone that I wanted to be in the business world. This reaction wasn’t uncalled for, but it made me nervous that no one seemed to believe in my decision.
When I started in my major, I had no experience in Business or Finance, and everything was new to me. I had to learn very fast and start from the bottom to be where some of my classmates already were. Some people had been investing already, and some had been reading and listening to podcasts about the market for a while. Surprisingly, there was an almost equal mix of men and women in my classes. In some of the upper-level classes, there might have been more men, but it was pretty close. The university did a great job in this way. Nevertheless, I still was intimidated by some of the men in my classes who acted like they knew everything already. They already had the upper hand, because more men have been in Finance historically, and the field may be more partial to hiring them.
It is nigh impossible these days to traverse the internet without encountering the glory that is Animal Crossing: New Horizons. It is the quarantine game and Nintendo Switches are sold out in nearly every store. While looking at island renovations and interactions with various islanders is fun, what those who do not play the game miss is the complete lack of gender conforming necessities. Basically all Animal Crossing games have functioned the same way, but since this one is the most recent, let’s swim through some of the best non-gendered parts of this game.
Firstly, the game expects everyone to do everything. This means that players are expected to fish, catch bugs, design clothes, make furniture, renovate the land, garden, and find fossils regardless of gender. Typically, some of these activities are particularly gendered outside of the game. Gardening, at least with flowers how the game does it, and clothing design are seen as feminine activities, whereas fishing, land renovation, and building are normally masculine. In Animal Crossing, your gender really does not play a role in your position on the island or what you can or cannot do, something that is slowly but surely being incorporated into our own lives outside of the game. Some could argue that the clothing design and tailor’s shop is still quite feminine, seeing as the two hedgehogs that run the shop are sisters Mabel and Sable. This is obviously true, but beyond that, the sisters practically raised themselves, started a business, and were successful enough that their youngest sister Labelle could become a fashion designer and they could move their store to a deserted island and still have great business. Talk about great role models for younger players! And, given how beloved they are, players have interacted with them in many of the games before this and will for games to come.
Animal Crossing also allows players to dress and represent themselves as they please! You can design your character to look however you want. Wear a dress or a suit on whatever day you feel like it! Even the hairstyles and colors are available to all players regardless of gender, so you’re welcome to have long pink hair no matter who you are. Unlike in many other games, you can even change the gender you present in the game by using a mirror at any time. The only choices you make in the beginning of the game that are permanent is your name, which does not have to be real sounding, and the name of your island. Players can look how they want to look within the limits of what they can design. There is also another new feature in the game that can help players dress how they want! Through the tailor’s shop, players can share designs they have made and look up and use designs other players have made public. For example, I definitely have multiple Harry Potter and Disney designs saved onto my game! If you don’t feel comfortable dressing up as Ariel in real life, totally go for it in game and be a part of that world! There are clear limits as to what you can do in the game, but this is a huge step up from the older Animal Crossing games where you couldn’t change presented gender or wear a dress any time you want. In a series where designing the world and your house is entirely up to you, it’s about time personal character design caught up.
Furthermore, this game has really stepped up the islander and vendor designs. There is still a ways to go with mixing the various character personalities between the genders, seeing as all “jock” characters are male and female islanders literally have a category called “normal”. But strides have been made to mix visual traits and the personalities of the vendors. Flick, the insect loving chameleon, is definitely the coolest new character and conforms to no gender binaries. This reddish-pink, punk chameleon is the newest bug obsessed artist of the cast who visits your island occasionally. Unlike many of the other characters, like Audie or Fang, it is difficult to figure out his gender upon first glance. The classic characters of the game, such as Apollo, Tom Nook, and Isabelle, are all easily identifiable as male or female, so for New Horizons to include an ambiguous looking character whose defining trait is bugs instead of a dress or deep voice is up to date with our modern expectations. Leif is another interesting character without a reliance on gender. While not new, Leif’s appearance in the game as the flower and shrub vendor with a love for nature and weed-free islands is a nice change of pace compared to Blathers and Red. He’s been in other Animal Crossing games, so the consistency with his gender-free character expectations is refreshing.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a breath of clear air amid all of the chaos happening around us. While I do not suggest drowning out the real world in a sea of flowers and bells, taking the time to immerse yourself in a happy place is always a worthwhile venture. And, while you’re at it, social distancing doesn’t count if you visit your friends’ islands in the game! Stay safe, stay social, and watch out for tarantulas!
We all know that if a bear cub is within sight, mama bear is right behind it, and you either need to get out of the area or arm yourself. We know that if mama bear has an issue with us being so close to her cub, we are toast. But does this mean mama bear is the superior creature? Likely not. Most of us think we are superior because we have opposable thumbs and the ability to reason. We have the intelligence to build cities, fences to keep animals out, and weapons in case the fences don’t work. We can build cranes and forklifts to lift things that humans can’t by themselves. This means that strength is not a characteristic that makes someone or something superior, right?
Throughout the years, many men have used their physical strength to try to control women. Domestic violence is still a huge issue, and many perpetrators are men abusing women. In the current pandemic, there is an upsurge. This is likely because couples are together 24/7, and there has been an increase in drinking and drug use to pass the time. Many men use the line “if men and women are truly equal, we would be able to hit you.” The first thing some men want to do is abuse us, but they already are. Men often use violence to assert dominance, as if strength makes them the superior sex. If this were true, the animal kingdom would rule the world.
Is it wrong to sexualize fictional characters? That is the question we’ll be looking into today, and there is no concrete yes or no answer that we can come to. However, we will look into many of the positive and negative aspects that can occur due to the trend within western civilization of sexualizing imaginary people. To clarify, I will not be discussing characters that are innately designed to be sexual, such as historical or mythological succubi and incubi, but rather characters that have storylines and plots outside of their sensual behaviors (though their storylines may be altered and impacted due to their use of their sexuality). We will be using four prime examples in order to dig into this question; Poison Ivy from the DC comic franchise, Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider video games, Lola Bunny from the Looney Tunes, and Megara from Disney’s Hercules. While each of the examples I am using are females, the same arguments can be made for sexualized male characters such as Jereth from the Labyrinth, Li Shang from Mulan, or DC’s Nightwing. The ways in which sexualizing made up characters can be positive and negative fall into two main groups that we will be discussing: Exposure and Normalization.
Three years have passed since millions of women and activists peacefully brought their voices to the worldwide stage. In 2017 it was impossible to scroll through social media without seeing countless posts of people attending their local march often donning the phrase “#WhyIMarch”. However, more recent years have seen the march absent from many of our minds and social feeds. With less attention on the movement, some have questioned its relevance. Has the Women’s March accomplished its mission?
All clothes are not created equal. While you would think that the only difference between men’s and women’s clothing is the physical appearance of it, that just simply isn’t true. Clothing is meant to be a way to physically represent who we are, a symbol of our fights and struggles, and not a clear divide between the genders. Women’s fashion is held in a different opinion, made of cheaper materials, and is not designed with the needs of women in mind.
One of the first and most harmful ways in which female clothing is unequal is due to the public opinion and mindset of it. The female fashion industry is seen as superficial, and putting an emphasis on the clothing you wear is viewed as vain. And yet, not putting effort into looking the absolute best deems a woman a slacker, lazy, or simply unpretty. Feminist Naomi Wolf once wrote in her book The Beauty Myth that “The way we looked determined our value to society.” Those who dress in female marketed clothing are judged by whether or not they conform to how that garment should look. The public mindset of female clothing is predominately that a woman’s worth is intrinsically and unconsciously linked to her appearance. This is an opinion that is often reinforced by the media that we consume as a culture. How many shows have you seen where the female character spends an inordinate amount of time deciding what to wear? I bet if you stop to think about it, you’ll find yourself surprised by how many there are. But this does not hold true for male’s clothing. With the exception of high end fashion, the men’s fashion world is viewed as more acceptable. GQ, one of the world’s leading men’s fashion companies, claims in an article on the clothing price difference that “Men are thought to approach buying clothes with more pragmatism”. Whereas women’s clothing is viewed as a physical representation of their worth, men’s clothing is just clothing. And that’s not even digging into the issues of dress codes and the way they reflect on the clothing.
With the number of women owned businesses increasing each year, it’s important to recognize the accomplishments of these women and their companies. According to the National Association of Women Business Owners, there are over 11.6 million US businesses that are owned by women, with 5.4 million of those businesses being majority-owned by women of color. A study from 2014-2019 shows that while America’s overall business growth was 9%, it was outpaced by the 21% growth in women-led companies – with Georgia, Idaho, Oregon, South Dakota, and Nevada leading this increase.
While many of these are million-dollar businesses, only one in five businesses with revenues of over $1 million or more are women-owned, leading to only 4.2% of women owned businesses surpassing that million-dollar mark. In 2018, only 1.7% of women owned businesses made over $1 million. Even though there are growing numbers in the amount of businesses, employment, and revenue from women entrepreneurs, there is still a long way to go.
In the age of social media it is extremely hard to be considered a “good mother.” If you look up any video of a mom and her baby on the internet, there are going to be people (mainly other women) telling her what she is doing wrong, or “mom-shaming,” even if the baby is laughing and happy in mom’s arms. Someone will tell her she is holding him wrong, or that the baby is wearing something inappropriate. Literally anything a mother does is wrong in someone’s opinion. Mothers are judged so harshly in today’s world for what they do with their babies and for taking any time for themselves to just be them, without the baby.
I understand that when you have kids, everything is about them because kids take up a lot of time. They are constantly learning and growing, and they need constant attention, supervision, and stimulation. Parents should want to be around their kids and they should be the center of their world. Creating and developing a new life is an incredible thing. It takes a lot of work. But this does not mean mothers have to completely abandon their personhood and who they are as people. Mothers are still people who have needs and desires separate from their children. This is a hard concept for many to grasp. There is a balance between being completely devoted to your children and giving up your entire self to them (which is unhealthy) and not caring about your children.
Life is a balance and it is normally not healthy to do one extreme or the other. Mothers have to find the balance that works for them. Just because a mother takes a few hours per night, or one night per week, or one day per month for herself does not mean she doesn’t care about or like spending time with her children. These few hours, nights, or days are essential to keeping sane. Kids are extremely draining, delightful creatures, and they need a lot of attention, especially from their mothers. This time away can’t just be at work, because work is draining too. Constantly running around working and taking care of tiny humans is exhausting, and not taking a break is unhealthy. Mothers need to let go of that guilt from others and from themselves for needing some “me time.”
Mothers are told even before they become mothers that they need to do everything they want to in life before they have kids because they can’t do anything afterwards. I’ve been told to travel, go to school, etc. before I have kids. The reality is that mothers can go to school with kids as long as they have a support system (although it is much harder). Mothers can travel either with their kids or without them. I’m not saying to go on solo vacations every 6 weeks to get away from the kids. I am saying that it is okay if you travel without them if you feel like you need to. Give yourself permission to be a person, to do things that you like because you like them. You can do things without your children. It’s okay.
Mothers are pressured to completely let go of their personhood in order to be good mothers. Fathers are not really pressured to do the same. This may be because fathers are still somewhat removed from raising children, at least in the US. Most companies don’t have paid maternity leave, let alone any type of paternity leave. Many couples can’t afford to have both parents not work, so the mother is the obvious choice to stay home. Fathers can still have a “man cave,” a garage, tool shed, office, etc. for themselves. They have time to themselves to do things they like to do, like fix things or create something. Mothers are typically watching the kids or cooking dinner while they do this. We should encourage parents to switch off having this time to themselves while the other parent watches the kids. Obviously, this is harder with a one-parent household, but it might be possible with a support system or at least when the child is older.
In this day and age, we need to go easier on mothers who are doing the best they can. Everyone has a different situation, a different lifestyle, and a different child. The needs of each family and each mother are different. Unless the child is in actual danger, we need to ease up. Stop judging mothers and start offering to help them, maybe by offering to take the kids while mom gets her hair done and takes a walk or a drive. Raising children is hard, and having “me time” is beneficial to both mom and baby. Let mothers be people, not just moms.
Parents tend to try to protect their female children from sexual assault by any means possible, which mostly means limiting their freedom. The same attitude does not tend to apply to male children because many parents feel that male children are stronger and will not be overtaken by female children. Further, they feel as if males will welcome any attention from females, and could not be raped or assaulted in the first place. This creates a double standard in the way that male and female children are raised. This double standard causes differences in the way that males and females are viewed, which cause societal issues in the way that genders are treated. This is especially true if someone is not a Cisgender male or female, in which they might be treated badly because they do not identify as the typical male or female.
This double standard continues into adulthood, where parents are still afraid for their daughters’ safety, but they do not worry so much about their sons’ safety when it comes to sexual assault. I know that when I went to college, I was given so many pink security accessories that I had nowhere to put them all. I had a pink, heart-shaped keychain accessory that when pressed, sounded an ear-shattering alarm. I had pink pepper spray that I had to take off my keychain because I was afraid it would go off in my purse. I had a little black Kubaton, which was a stick that you put on your keychain to use if you got attacked in a parking lot. All of these accessories were gifts from my parents for when I went to college. This isn’t unusual. Girls get pepper spray while boys get condoms.
This is because women are at a higher risk for sexual assault when on college campuses. 11.2% of all students experience it during their time at college. This why women are given rape whistles. Men, on the other hand, are given condoms because this is the time when they are expected to have more sex. Parents understand these two ideas, but they do not seem to link them together. They understand that their daughters are at higher risk of being assaulted, but not that their sons are at higher risk of being a perpetrator. Parents will try to protect their daughters from sexual assault by every method except teaching their children consent, self-control, and empathy. If parents taught their children these things, they could save someone else’s child from sexual assault, which in turn would save their own children.
This cognitive dissonance occurs when parents buy their daughters rape whistles and playfully give their sons condoms. Parents know that rape is statistically higher in college, but they only protect their daughters. They firstly do not understand that the statistic is for both children, but they also do not think that their sons would rape someone. I understand, because most parents know and raise their children from when they were small and innocent and they stay that way in parents’ minds. No parent ever wants to hear that their child committed a crime or hurt someone. No parent wants to believe that. Most of all, no parent wants to think that they were the reason their child hurt someone.
The #MeToo movement is just starting to shed light on how widespread sexual assault and sexual harassment are, and it is a topic that is finally getting some attention. Men and women are now able to tell their stories without being drowned out by those who support the perpetrator. The Harvey Weinstein conviction was a huge win for this movement, and was a step in the right direction in making sure perpetrators get justice. I feel that in past generations parents did not really understand why their children committed crimes like this. The link between these behaviors and how they were raised was unknown or ignored. Consent has only been a popular topic online recently, as many men and women did not understand it. Many people did not understand the difference between a consensual sexual encounter and sexual assault, which is terrifying.
Because consent is a new topic, many parents of college-aged adults or older did not have the chance to teach their kids about it. They may not have thought they needed to teach the concept, so their kids never learned it. Parents that are raising children now need to make consent a part of the sex talk. Make it a huge part of the sex talk. (We also need to expand sex education to make it comprehensive in order to take into account all parts of the spectrum and all -or most- situations, but that’s a whole other post.) The way that we can reduce these horrible statistics is to educate our children and other adults on topics like these. The future generation will be better for it and treat each other more considerately.