Role Model Lines: Gender Relations in Pop Culture

This being International Women's Day I've been thinking about something that seems to come up a lot when feminists talk about popular culture: relatability. The issue has always been that women and girls supposedly don't have enough role models they can look up to. While I do believe that there is a discussion to be had about the ratio of representation and how women are represented both physically and in terms of personality that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about this strange assumption that's popped up over the past few years: in order for somebody to sympathize with or look up to a character they HAVE to be of the same sex. this hypothesis is one I don't think I'll ever understand in a 21st century context. It would've held weight in the early to mid 20th century, when societal norms and gender roles were portrayed on screen and the general populace looked to film and television to tell them how to behave. This created a gender roles echo chamber, where any woman in control of a life that didn't orbit a man was a revelatory, sorely needed role model for women and girls. However, that was the past and we're not in the past. We're here, now, in 2017 where men and women are more equal in society and the workforce than they ever have been, gender roles, if not dead quite yet, are rapidly getting there and anybody with a brain in their head can figure out that the only significant difference between men and women is their genitalia. So why is it that the feminist movement is constantly telling us that females need role models of their own sex or else they'll become weak, wimpy human beings? Are you saying that women can't relate to men because we have testicles? Are you then implicitly saying that men can't relate women characters because they have significantly larger and more appealing looking breasts than we do? Why would genitalia and hormone differences prevent somebody from connecting with base human emotions? Are you telling me that a little girl couldn't watch The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and find the bravery and perseverance of Blonde inspiring or that a little boy couldn't watch Mary Poppins and look up to the titular character as an icon of gentleness and compassion?

To further illustrate the point let's look at a character who I look up to as the best female character of all time, Furiosa from Mad Max: Fury Road. On the surface she seems to go through a female specific plight: escape a literal patriarchy with a group of baby making wives. How could I, a man, relate to something like this? Because at the core Furiosa is experiencing, and acting on, emotions I can relate to: the desire to do right in the face of evil, hope that things can be better, determination in struggle, despair when all seems lost.

When it comes down to it it really doesn't matter what the sex of the character is. As long as they're experiencing emotions we understand and have personalities we like anybody can be anyone's role model. So can we please stop pretending it matters? We're just strengthening the boundaries when we try to take them down this way.


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