Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Smurfette Principle (aka, Women Should Be in More Things, Okay?)

Tokenism. It's an ugly word. You probably already know what it means, but just to make it completely clear, it refers to the practice of putting a symbolic minority in a place of prominence, in a disingenuous attempt to show that you are progressive. Even though you're not. Usually we think of this in terms of characters of color, like Coach and Winston on New Girl. Isn't it a little weird that this show has had two main characters of color, and both of them were neurotic athletes with inter-personal problems? It's a little hinky.

Well, women get it too. It's weird to think of women as a minority, since we actually account for 52% of the world population (thanks, genetics!). But when it comes to power structures and representation, we are, indeed, the second sex. That's where the Smurfette Principle comes in. I'm stealing liberally from Feminist Frequency's video here, but basically, the Smurfs all lived in a happy land of men, until Gargamel decided to bring them down by introducing a horrible female Smurf, a Smurfette, if you will. Fortunately, Papa Smurf redeemed her, and made her prettier, and now the Smurfs can continue as they were, with the addition of a nice girl Smurf. One nice girl Smurf. Because you only need one.

But whatever, it's just the Smurfs. It's not like anyone else did that. (And by that, I mean, had exactly one female character on a team of all men, regardless of proportional representation or ability).

So here are some examples of what totally never happens all the time.

Black Widow/Wasp/Scarlet Witch, The Avengers

So, you probably saw the Avengers movie this weekend, along with everyone else ever (including me!), and you may have noticed that there was a surprising lack of, well, ladies. This is a movie directed by Joss "Honorary Vagina" Whedon, after all. Despite Joss' efforts, though, Black Widow, was the only vagina-ed superhero we saw. This is unfortunately not a new thing with the Avengers property. Whether it was Wasp or Scarlet Witch or Ms. Marvel, there has almost never been more than one woman on the team at the same time. Which kinda sucks, because I like the idea of Natasha getting to have girl-talk with someone about how much her ankles hurt after kicking asses all day, and then Carol Danvers coming back with a complaint about how her supersuit chafes sometimes, but SHIELD won't put out for a new one. Or, even better, Nat and Carol dishing on their pasts. I want to see Nat and Wanda Maximoff talking messed up childhoods. I demand girl-talk, Marvel, about things other than boys and hair. About things that matter.

Susan Storm, Fantastic Four

Not only is Sue Storm the only girl on the team, she also has the most defensive power (turning invisible and creating force fields around her allies), and is in a romantic or nurturing role towards 2/3 of the rest of the team (married to Reed, sister to Johnny). You can only assume that occasionally she wants to get out there and have some fun, but she's stuck inside, ironing the supersuits. But it's not just that Sue is the only woman on the Fantastic Four. It's also that she's clearly there for the "oh right women" aspect, and so that Reed can have someone in his life to protect who also knows his secret. She's got the crappest powers, and while she has the occasional moment of wittiness, generally, Sue just exists so that comics executives can point at her and say, "Yeah-huh we appeal to the female demographic!"

Uhura, Star Trek: TOS and Star Trek (2009)

Now, here's a sticky subject. Because when Uhura first appeared on Star Trek in the 60s, she was actually making a huge step forward for women and characters of color at the time. She had a position of command on the ship, was listened to very respectfully, and received much of the same treatment in regards to storylines and development as the male characters. In addition, she was one-half of the first interracial kiss on television. Go Uhura! But the recent reboot is a little more problematic. You see, it's not the 1960s anymore, and we're capable of having more than one woman on the Bridge of a vessel. Yes, there are a lot of purist fans who demanded that the composition of the Bridge remain exactly the same, but, well, screw them! It's an alternate timeline. Kirk grew up without a father, maybe Sulu grew up female. It's the future, I'm pretty sure there are women there too.

Dr. Allison Cameron/Thirteen, House MD

For the first three seasons, aka the good seasons, Cameron is the only woman on House's team. Then, House replaces his whole team, and then Thirteen is the only woman on House's team. There's no reason for this, there are other qualified female doctors. Cutthroat Bitch, who appears at the same time as and competes with Thirteen, could have been added to the team. But no. Two women on a team? Unthinkable! Too much lady!

Princess Leia, Star Wars

One of the most famous examples. Leia isn't just the only woman in the main group of Star Wars (I refer to the original trilogy, because there are no other films), she's the only woman in the entire series. I don't really think I need to add anything here.

So, no. I can't think of any examples of female tokenism in pop culture. Not a one.

I'll just be over here with my list.

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