Featured Post


This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Thursday, October 13, 2016


Two of this week's essays are devoted to situations in which female characters are "victims' (and, in one case, "Victims" with a capital letter). Late last year I accused Noah the Huddite (hmm, sounds rather Biblical)  of being "addicted to victimage," So now I'll toss out a few more words to explain why I don't consider it an addiction simply to enjoy this category of fiction

First, NTH wanted-- and probably still wants-- to find "victims" in every form of literary work. By his cited examples, it didn't matter if a fictional woman is being treated to literal Sadean humiliations or is seen simply getting her rocks off in a way that-- horrors!-- might entertain straight males.  His outlook was to evince extreme hypersensitivity to the maltreatment of anyone who was not a "straight white male," even to the extent of reading narratives like Rorschach tests, designed to let him see in them whatever he wanted to see. That said, there have been others, notably the founders of WAP, who have made slightly more cogent arguments about the marginalization of women in a male-centered culture. I might not, at the end of the day, truly subscribe to their arguments any more than I do to those of NTH. But at least I can see why the early members of WAP might have been naive enough to see pornography as no more than an excuse to celebrate "Woman as Victim." NTH, writing at this point in history, has no such excuse.

I once speculated that Heidi McDonald might be something of a "Wapster." She didn't carry on about every little transgression made by straight white males, but she sometimes expressed the idea that fiction ought to conform in all particulars to progressive ideals, particularly those related to the equitable depiction of women in comics. Back in 2014 I wrote my first essay on the principle of "equity" in response to one of her BEAT-posts, and said, in part:

The whole "who's exposed more" question should never have been one of pure equity.  Equity is something to be observed in the workplace or the boardroom, but not in fiction.  Fiction is a place where fantasy reigns, and as I said in the essay, it's simply a lot harder to sell hyper-sexualized fantasies to women than to men.  I tend to think that this is because in general men are hornier bastards than women, but others' mileage may vary.
Equity should never have been the question because equity of this sort is not feasible.   There will probably always be more sexualized female characters in pop fiction than sexualized male characters-- but that doesn't mean that the latter don't occur at all, or that one can slough off all the chiseled chins and buff bodies as manifestations of "idealization."

 With some alterations, it should be evident that it is also not feasible to avoid a preponderance of "female victimage" in fiction, even though it is obviously desirable to reduce victimage of all kinds in real life.

Why not feasible? Because although fiction is not real life, its characters' "unreal lives" inevitably follow some though not all patterns taken from real life.

I devoted some space to the differences between male and female biology in SACRED AND PROFANE VIOLENCE PART 2, but only a few sentences apply to this essay:

With some exceptions, the so-called "great apes" follow the example set by a majority of birds and other mammals in that most male apes possess greater size, about 25 percent larger than the females. This gives the biggest ones a generally greater capacity for imposing their will, either on females or on other males.
Now, I wouldn't have written as much as I have on the subject of "the Fighting Woman Archetype" if I believed that the greater body mass of the human male decided all questions of supremacy. But if it's almost inevitable that most men are stronger than most women, then this physical factor inevitably will be reflected in fiction. This inequity will at all times comprise an "is" that cannot be negated by any *ought.*  Even comic books, which have arguably been a greater haven for the Femme Formidable than any other medium, can't refute the basics of physical law. Thus, there's a certain inescapable physical-- and narrative-- logic that female characters can be more easily victimized than male ones.

That said, to be victimized is not quite the same as being victims. As I noted earlier, the Victims are not Femmes Formidables, but they still show an unwavering persistence in the face of their travails. In contrast, Phoebe Zeit-Geist only gets one or two moments to defy her assailants, but her torments-- whether any reader actually enjoyed them or not-- were apparently meant to make readers give some thought to the prevalence of the "damsel in distress" archetype in fiction. O'Donoghue's hyper-intellectual attitude is in some ways just as scornful toward the archetype as the animadversions of the Wapsters; he's just not framing his critique as a political statement.

More on these matters at a later date.

ADDENDUM: I thought about expanding these remarks for a Part Two, since I didn't really answer the concern with which I started: how to prove that one may in theory have a taste for "female victimage" in fiction without being "addicted" to it. However, I've decided to sum up here. My basic point is that even if an author uses or even emphasizes female victimage in a given story, this does not pre-determine that he's getting his rocks off on seeing women suffer: both of my examples, O'Donoghue and Hewetson, are clearly using female victimage for other thematic purposes than those of, say, the Marquis de Sade. It remains one of my central postulates that fiction should privilege the ideal of absolute freedom, and that there is no particular trope-- no matter whom it offends-- which holds the exact same content that the politically correct seek to transform into a modern taboo.

No comments: