“I yield”, I cried breathing heavily, because his mum looked ready to brain me with her oversized handbag, if I harmed her adorable four-year-old. As if!
Visiting the Joust! Event at Cardiff Castle yesterday it struck me how alive and well stereotyping really is. While virtually every boy, no matter how old, was dressed up as a knight in chainmail and armour, holding some mace, sword or staff, girls were mainly dressed up in their usual clothes or as pretty princesses. Very few girls came dressed as knights or soldiers and this became especially apparent, when the children were asked to enter the jousting arena to do a round of honour as “soldiers of the king”. The grown up knights selected princesses, whose hands they held and who were allowed to lead the procession. The boys followed, waving severed heads (relax, they were made from plastic), axes, swords, maces and lances around.
This got me thinking how in the world of literature and movies creatures of the night are mostly male. On the rare occasion, when the girls do get to have some fun, they are shown as being utterly monstrous, as if to compensate for their lack of representation. I’m thinking of Norman Bate’s mum and Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth, of Godzilla and of Sigourney Weaver’s arch enemy, the alien mother creature from Ridley Scott’s original Alien movie…the spider from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Morgause and Morgana Pendragon from the BBC’s Merlin series and the witch from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, the Kevin Costner/Alan Rickman movie.
Just as in real life, where men are the main perpetrators of the most horrendous crimes, literature and movies typically turn women into victims and men into heroes or villains. At the Joust! event yesterday we got to see a lovely circle of women dancing, sewing, helping a knight to mend his armour and put it on as well as cooking food that would sustain the knights fighting in the tournament…supporting roles, nurturing, mothering, weak…and we all went cheerfully along with it and a great day was had by all.
The only difference being perhaps that the roles of page and stable boy were played by young women in the jousting arena, but apart from that we had suddenly entered a male dominated world of almost primeval proportions, where otherwise perfectly respectable looking mums and grandmothers suddenly started shouting “fight, fight, fight”, when two knights were unsure of how best to settle their differences in the arena and were dads and grandfathers fondly remembered their mis-spent youth in pub brawls and street fights.
I made my vampire heroine a girl because
a) the real Willow is a girl and
b) positive female role models and female empowerment are as much needed now as they were when Joss Whedon unleashed Buffy the Vampire Slayer onto our screens and Diana Rigg the Avenger was folding up her leather cat-suits to go into retirement.
Yin and yang are not supposed to be opposing forces, but are meant to complement each other. Females may be regarded as dark, unseen and hidden, while males are light, masculine and seen (concrete as opposed to abstract), yet in the world of fiction and cinema this principle seems to have been turned upside down. Or has it?
As mothers we are all powerful, until our little knights have grown up enough to face the world and find their place in it. We tell them what to wear, what to eat, when to tidy their room and when to go to bed. We are the light that guides them, protects them from the dark forces that threaten their young lives.
What resentment must there be in men…to be subjected to such oppression for so long? In some cultures this resentment comes out every day in the shape of pseudo-religious nonsense invented to suppress women’s rights, to enslave them and to generally make their lives a misery. In other cultures this resentment is less obvious, but it is there nonetheless. Revenge has never been served up any sweeter.
In medieval times men could vent their dark resentment by accusing women of witchcraft and sorcery or simply tell everybody she was an unfaithful wife to have her punished severely or even killed. Today most women are still excluded from the boardroom power and in Germany they are still regarded as little more than a housekeeper and a sex object. Oddly enough, Germany was recently voted as one of the few places in the world – along with Canada – were women had a much better life.
When movies and literature show women from “hell”, these females are made to be especially nasty, completely over the top type villains who’ll stop at nothing to get what they want. Is this done so that the reader or viewer finds it easier to suspend belief and forget about real women, the nurturing arms, the supportive heart, the helpmate in need?
The world of monsters seldom has female killers in it, although there are a few exceptions, of course. Female serial killers are very rare, but when they strike, they are perceived as so heinous and cruel, words fail us and we are utterly repulsed, forgetting for a moment that the world is in such a sorry state because male monsters have made it so…
(photographs copyright Maria Thermann, source of animation: heathersanimation.com)