Your OTP Is Not An Excuse for Slut-Shaming

Author’s Note: Before reading this, please make yourself familiar with the term “slut-shaming.” Thanks very much.

giphy-2

I decided to write this post on Knife Ink Reviews because even though it has to do with The X-Files, it’s certainly not just about The X-Files. This is something that crops up way more than it should, even, it turns out, in the fanbases of shows that are praised for having female characters that are more than props.

When I started becoming more involved with X-Philes on Twitter (for the uninitiated, “X-Philes” are fans of The X-Files), I was pleasantly struck by just how nice, supportive, and dedicated fans they are. That is still true. My opinion of X-Philes has not changed. You guys still rock.

What I was sad to see this morning is evidence of some of the grosser aspects of Internet culture having leaked their way into the fandom: in this case, slut-shaming.

I’m not going to name names, because that’s not the goal of this post and you can find out for yourself easily enough if you go on Twitter. What I want to do is talk about sexism, hypocrisy, and make a sincere apology to the actress who was on the receiving end of some pretty nasty comments (like I said, names are unnecessary, nor do they really matter).

When I was a young girl, a wee young lass, if you will, I asked my mother why it was acceptable for guys to go shirtless at the beach and girls had to cover up. I don’t remember what her response was – knowing my mother, it was very smart and sensible – but the question never left me.

Flash forward to years later, and here I am, witnessing the same sexist attitudes whirl around my favorite show in what seems to me to be an unrelenting firestorm of sexism, hatred, and stupidity. Let me explain.

For most X-Philes, the One True Pairing is Mulder and Scully. That’s obvious. And X-Philes are very, very passionate about their OTP. So much so that anyone who dares get in the way of Mulder and Scully had best find a very, very isolated home in the mountains and stay away from the internet in the interest of their personal safety.

Most of the time, X-Philes are passionate and have their hearts in the right place. I’m sure the same is true of other fandoms. We don’t want anything to happen to our OTP, so we get really, really angry when we hear news like this (even though we don’t know yet what Chris Carter has in mind, Philes, but that’s a conversation for another time). We get angry. We get defensive. We sometimes even get a little mean.

There is a smaller but equally passionate sub-fandom of Mulder/Scully shippers: those that “ship” actors David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, who, unlike Mulder and Scully, are very much real people. This is a tricky sort of thing to talk about because I don’t want to tick anybody off that hasn’t been saying any of the nasty stuff, nor do I want to blame all Gillovny shippers for the actions of a few.

I’m not going to pretend like I don’t have personal problems with the idea of “shipping” two people who are very much real. I, for one, do not have anything resembling interest in David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson as a couple. I’ve always been more invested in their characters, and I tend to not delve too deep into the personal lives of the people behind the characters I love. I realize that’s not true for everyone, but for me it is. I just don’t care.

And because I don’t care to know about the intimate details of celebrities’ personal lives, I do have a bit of a problem with the idea of shipping “Gillovny” at all. Not with the people, mind you, just the idea itself. These aren’t characters. They’re real people. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson are two gorgeous human beings with a lot of wit, charm, and chemistry. They’re sexy together. I’m sure they’re fun to be around.

And I’m sure that’s what a certain young actress was thinking when she posted a photo on the internet the other day – a photo of herself standing in between Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny. All three were smiling and looked like they were having a great time. It was a cute pic.

As this photo circulated around Twitter, people began to edit the photo. They chopped the woman in the middle out, making it another David Duchovny/Gillian Anderson photo. Which I wasn’t a huge fan of, but the act itself was relatively harmless. Fine. Whatever. Have your OTP.

A line has to be drawn.

In an effort to figure out who this mysterious woman-in-the-middle was, some dedicated fans found her Instagram, where the photo had been originally posted, and saw another photo – the photo that launched a thousand ugly comments.

This photo was a picture of this actress wearing a bikini. At the top was a quote from David Duchovny’s novel. She’d tagged him in the photo.

That was all it took for things to get nasty.

Most of them were deleted, but a slew of comments on this Instagram photo called this actress nasty names. I managed to screenshot the one that was probably the tamest:

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 11

Curious, I took to Twitter, in an effort to hunt down more comments launched at this poor woman. There were a lot. But this was the one that got me the angriest, and indeed the one that I think encompasses most of the, ah, sentiments expressed:

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 3

First point. This is a great example of the hypocrisy I was talking about, and it also brings back the point I was making about shirtless men. I can assure you if David Duchovny had posted a picture on Instagram shirtless with the name of a woman tagged, there would have been no response like this. Why? Because it’s acceptable for a man to associate himself with a woman in almost every way imaginable without having to endure slut-shaming. 

This actress is a “bitch” not because she said anything bad about David Duchovny, not because she publicly shamed David Duchovny, not because she did or said anything negative relating to David Duchovny, but because she posted a quote, correctly cited the source, which happened to be David Duchovny, and posted a picture of herself in a bikini.

She did not throw herself at David Duchovny. You, relentless, rude commenters that fancy yourselves fans of David Duchovny and, I’m sorry to say, “Gillovny” shippers, you threw her at David Duchovny.

The bullsh*t continued:

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 3

Oh I’m sure she’s now gotten used to people “telling her off.” Now that this crowd has gotten to her. As I’m sure most women in the public eye are. And here we go with the slut-shaming! This actress obviously has no talent because she has a nice body. She “gets ahead” because she’s a slut and a famewhore, not because of her abilities.

And as much as I’m sure David Duchovny appreciates this crowd “sticking up for him” by publicly slut-shaming another woman, I really don’t think tagging David Duchovny in an instagram post is going to help anybody’s career. Just sayin’. It’s entirely possible that, I don’t know, that wasn’t even her intention? How about maybe she liked the damn quote? And as for the picture, it’s not a selfie. She’s a model. That’s what she does. 

Another point: even if most of the people making these comments are women – and I strongly suspect they are – it doesn’t mean that it isn’t a product of the rampant sexism that exists on the internet, especially in fandoms. And that is why crossing the line of fiction to real life in a fandom is dangerous; that’s why there is a huge difference between someone who innocently ships David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson and those who are aggressively and unhealthily passionate about it. As much as others might try to say it, shipping Mulder and Scully is not and will never be the same as shipping two real-life people.

We can talk about how it’s wrong to slut-shame anyone, fictional or non-fictional. We can talk about how the flack this woman is receiving could be compared to what characters like Diana Fowley received during the show’s run. You can treat this like a normal ship. But it’s not. When a real-life person is being slut-shamed and called everything from a skank to a fucking bitch to a whore in the name of The X-Files fandom, a line MUST BE DRAWN. Your OTP cannot be your excuse for saying harmful things to real people. Your OTP is not an excuse for slut-shaming.

Final words to the people involved in this scenario.

To the shamers:

Please stop. It’s immature, it’s rude, and I’m pretty sure David Duchovny wouldn’t support it. And it makes the fandom look really, really bad.

To the fandom:

Please just continue doing what you’re doing and be the nice, kind people I know most of you are. I love this show and this fandom, and we don’t need to participate in behavior like this. We’re better than that. Let’s remain that way.

To the actress:

On behalf of X-Philes everywhere, I’d like to say I’m sorry you were bombarded with comments like that. And I hope you had a blast with whatever role you play/played in the revival.

To the rest of the world:

As an X-Phile and a fairly decent human being, I do not support this. And neither should you.


You can read Knife Ink’s more frequently updated stuff on thereviewisoutthere.wordpress.com, an X-Files review blog. You can also follow her on Twitter. Warning: she pretty much just tweets about The X-Files. 

Advertisements

A “Strong Female Character”? – Random Musings

529a251ee6c42acf794d14fdda4b018624e43dcc215fd696937054a02a9cb3ab

I could write an entire article on this picture alone. Whoever made this meme has not only clearly never seen the show but is very likely the devil, and so help me God if I ever come across the person who made this I will feed you to the Flukeman, Tooms, the Peacock family, the alien rebels, the black virus, and then hand you over to Dana Scully herself so she can destroy you with her defined personality, complex character, and inescapable Stare of Death.

 

A few months ago, I read an article that gave a negative review of the movie Frozen. The article wasn’t so much a review of the movie as it was a list of reasons Frozen should not be considered a feminist triumph, which is an issue I don’t want to get into lest I be slain by the communities of BuzzFeed, Tumblr, Upworthy, and, well, everything else. Fortunately, I don’t have to because Lindsay Ellis (Nostalgia Chick) of ThatGuyWithTheGlasses.com fame already did it for me on her own website, Chez Apocalypse. You can read the negative article here and Lindsay’s response to it here.

But the article did bring up one point I’d like to talk about. It made the argument that Elsa was not a “strong female character” like many have claimed. And, according to the author, here was the reason:

This is not a strong woman. This is a frightened, repressed, vulnerable woman who starts running at the beginning of the movie and doesn’t stop until her sister literally turns to ice in front of her.

And when I read that, I kind of sighed and did a facepalm.

This aspect of the article embodies an issue I have seen plaguing the internet for some time now. It’s not an issue of feminism, it’s an issue of definition and understanding of what makes stories and characters work. And it’s also an issue of a term that has become exceedingly misused in today’s day and age.

The term “strong female character,” despite what it should mean or what it was originally intended to mean, has become the title of a certain type of female character in modern entertainment – a character who is female, independent, strong, confident, challenges the roles society has given her, and don’t need no man. And while I love and respect all of these attributes, I don’t think that’s all a strong female character should be. I don’t even think that’s the way we need to go about equalizing gender portrayal in the media. It’s probably the worst way we could possibly do it.

Being a strong character, regardless of whether you are male or female, is not dependent on being a strong person or having a strong personality. There are plenty of characters I would consider strong that have absolutely pitiful personalities. That’s not the point, and that’s not what a strong character is.

Here’s more from the article.

There’s an ongoing problem, I think, with “strong female character” being made synonymous with “any fictional woman who isn’t just window dressing”. There’s a whole argument to be made about why the phrase “strong female character” is a problem in and of itself — after all, do you ever hear a writer set out specifically to write a “strong male character”? — but I think that that’s what going on with Frozen. Because both characters are arguably leads, and neither is reduced to talking production design, we are conditioned to see them both as “strong”, whether or not they actually are. Frozen certainly has two female characters. It even arguably has two lead female characters. But it certainly doesn’t have two strong female characters, and two out of three just isn’t enough to justify all the praise.

And ever so ironically, this particular paragraph included a link to an article that pretty much seems to get it, for the most part. I don’t want to sound rude, but…did the author even read the article she provided a link to? Because here’s the thing. I think Frozen did an incredibly good job of creating two compelling female characters without throwing it in your face that they are female, and they still retain their femininity.

Elsa’s flaws are what make her a strong female character. To me, a strong character is one with conflicts and struggles and weaknesses. Elsa is insecure, scared, and runs away from her problems instead of facing them. That’s what makes her character interesting – and that’s what makes her character strong.

STRONG

Writing a female character should not be done for the sake of making that character female. The most important part of the phrase “strong female character” should be the word “character.” If you write a strong character – a character that has a personality, has flaws that help define the theme of the story, has conflicts, both internal and external, that she has to face, and, most importantly, deals with those conflicts in a way that helps the story, you’ve probably got a strong character. And, if you make that character female, good for you.

When you’re telling a story, the focus shouldn’t be on the gender of the characters. One might even argue that’s anti-feminist. The focus should be on writing characters. The best way to equalize gender portrayal is not to add more of the same “strong female character” we’ve been seeing – the confident, kick-ass, always deals with her problems in a respectable way female character – but the character we need to see, the character who retains her femininity without shouting in your face “look at me, I’m a woman. Look at me, I’m a woman.”

Doug and Rob Walker’s very last Avatar: The Last Airbender vlog included a discussion of why the show was so good for people of all types. At some point, Rob Walker said (and I am paraphrasing here), “What a great show for girls. The girl characters in this show can go toe to toe with the males, and you don’t even notice.”

Right, Rob. You don’t notice because the female characters in Avatar: The Last Airbender put relatively little to no focus on their femininity, just as the male characters put relatively little to no focus on their masculinity. And when they do, it’s usually a joke and within the spirit and character of the show.

You can be a strong female and embody femininity without saying you do. Look at Dana Scully from The X-Files. Look at Dr. Ryan Stone from Gravity. Both are characters I love and consider to be some of the best female characters in existence, not because they say they’re female and strong but because they are female and strong.

I heard a lot of arguments against the scene in Gravity where Ryan figures out what to do through a hallucinated version of George Clooney’s character, Matt Kowalski. A lot of people interpreted that scene as anti-feminist because even though Ryan was a female alone in space, in the end it was a hallucinated version of a man that saved her life.

But to me, that scene perfectly articulated how today’s entertainment should go about equalizing gender portrayal. It’s made very clear throughout the film that Matt Kowalski is a veteran astronaut and this is Ryan’s first trip to space. Because of his experience and expertise, she knew he would know what to do, and her mind cooked up an image of him because he embodied the knowledge and inspiration she had within herself but didn’t realize she possessed.

None of those qualities have anything to do with George Clooney’s character being a man, and if his character had been played by a woman, I have no doubt Ryan would have cooked up a version of that character, no matter what gender or what form that character took. George Clooney being a man is not the point. George Clooney being a mentor is.

I hope that, in the future, people will continue to write characters – male, female, or any other gender. This extends to other indentifying characteristics such as ethnicity, social class, age, sexual orientation, etc. The character must always come first.

3698328