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On Being a Feminist

A few months back, my husband and I were having a conversation in the car.  I was sharing with him a blog post I had read.  I told him I was delighted to realize that Miyazaki’s movies could be considered feminist.  Before I could explain, he argued with me – Miyazaki is not a feminist.  I was stunned – what did that mean?

After talking for a few more moments, I realized that my husband was a victim of the same image of feminism that has caused countless women to announce they are not feminists.  It’s shocking to me when a woman will say things like that but I do understand where they are coming from.

Every established group has their stereotype that is less than flattering.  The feminists of the 60’s and 70’s were hardcore, spiteful women but they were necessary.  They were the soldiers.  While we didn’t win the war, we are occupying the battlefield.  Tactics have to change.  The soldiers start to disappear and are replaced with ambassadors and red cross volunteers.  There’s a new face to feminism but it’s being overlooked.

I am a feminist.  I have no problem saying that.  I hope my husband and son can say the same thing.  What is a feminist – someone who believes that women should be considered equal partners in this world.  I don’t believe women are better than men.  I do believe that each person has their strengths and weaknesses.  One should be judged individually not by their gender (or race or ethnicity or who they decide to love).

Being a feminist is not innate.  I find that I overlook things because that’s the way they’ve been until someone points out that there is something wrong with it.  50 Shades of Grey is a perfect example, and it’s “original” Twilight.  I did not read 50 Shades of Grey because I just don’t have the time to read bad writing.  Beyond that, I didn’t give it much thought.

I did read Twilight.  I devoured the books with an ohh and ahh because teen love is so sweet.  Then I read an article about how Edward was a terrible (abusive) boyfriend.  I got to thinking – they were right.  I don’t have a daughter so I didn’t give any thought to the influence that book might have on a young woman.  I thought it was sweet.  I am from the era of bodice rippers and men who sweep women off their feet.  That was considered normal – no one gave any thought to the real life implications.

Now that my eyes have been opened, I see this more and more.  Not because it’s a growing trend.  I see it because I am now aware of it.  I think about the relationships in my own writing – am I promoting relationships that my fellow feminists would be proud to share?

Why was Twilight non-feminist?  Well, let’s start with the fact that Bella had no strong female role models.  She defined herself by Edward’s love.  Edward did not treat her with respect.  I can get over the whole watching her while she slept – he was a vampire and, while creepy, it can be considered character appropriate.  However, their relationship was built on a foundation where he did not see her as equal.  Yes, the whole vampire thing skews the example.  But look at Jacob – he supported her.  He never left her side through everything.  Not only did he love her but she was equal to him in his eyes.  But they are teenagers and the example will never be perfect.

So let’s go back to the comment that started this whole discussion – Miyazaki as a feminist.

Hayao Miyazaki has directed 12 feature length animated movies.  (I’ve seen 10 of those movies.)  Of those 12 films, 8 were told from a female perspective or had a main character that was a female.  Of those 8, 3 of them had male characters that were of equal importance to the female character.  That means that out of 12 films, 5 of them were movies about a female character.  That may not seem like a great number since it is less than half.  But those female characters are amazing.  They are leaders, fighters, survivors.  Of the 10 I have seen, there is only 1 that did not have a female character that I can remember.  The rest had memorable, amazing female characters.  They have a variety of characteristics – some are beautiful, some are ordinary.  Some are smart while others are more than willing to let someone else do the hard work.

However, all the main female characters are ones that I would be willing to model myself after, at least at some point in my life.  The best part is that my son loved the movies because they are great movies.  There’s no special feminist message beating up the viewer.  They are just awesome stories with characters that you remember.

His favorite, Howl’s Moving Castle, is about Sofi who doesn’t have a lot of confidence until she is cursed by a witch.  Her curse – to be an old woman.  Freed from all the constraints of her young age, she goes on an adventure.  She speaks her mind and gives of herself so much that she saves the hero with her love and a stern voice.

I think that’s one of the best parts of his stories – the female character is often the one doing the saving.  It’s not perfect but in an world were women are not accurately represented in movies and television it’s a breath of fresh air.  The more I think about it the more I find I can barely stand the way women are portrayed.

It’s one of the reasons I am having a hard time with the horror genre – where are the female heroes?  I did love You’re Next.  I won’t spoil it for you but if you are looking for a feminist approved horror movie (approved by this feminist) that is the one I would recommend.

So I could go on, you know I can, but I’m not here to beat you over the head.  I think what I wanted to share was a flame – something to light your candle so you can go forth and see more yourself.  I may come back to this topic since I have a lot of opinions.

Ironically, I had planned this post for some time and decided last week I would write it today.  Then Patricia Arquette makes the news with her feminist rant at the Oscars.  I didn’t see it so I can’t comment but I love that there is discussion.  It never hurts to talk about it.  The more we think about it, the more we can make this world a better place for everyone.  I do want to close with this – feminism benefits everyone.  I know my family would say if “Mama ain’t happy no one is” but that’s not the entire truth.  We are all more happy when we build on a foundation of love.  We can’t love someone if we don’t see and understand their value, not only to us but to the world.