Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Token Female In Entertainment and Reality

I've been thinking about this post for a while now, and have to admit that I've held off writing it and posting it partly because of pure good old fashioned fear.  I read this article about Women in Movies and decided that it was time to start writing it.

The article deals with how many roles go to women in today's movies.  Not just the good roles, but the "crappy" roles...or rather, the extras in the movies or side characters whose genders aren't vital to their character.

Anne, one of my favorite heroines...
Female representation in entertainment is something I think about as an author.  I was raised in a rather traditional mindset that the Males are dominate.  God created them first and women were an afterthought to 'help' men rule but not rule on their own.  I'm not here to split hairs about this today, although I will say that this particular teaching is a misreading and twisting of the bible.  Ever since I learned of the Bechdel test for movies, I've asked myself this question about my own work: do I have at least two female characters who talk to each other (without a man present) about something other than a man?

I try to have as many female characters as I do male.  So far, I am a traditional Romance author in that the romance is between a man and a woman.  ("Traditional" church upbringing remember).  I'm only beginning to experiment with characters who are either gay, bi, or lesbian.  As I myself am married to a man, my romances will probably stay in that arena.

Available on Amazon
In Farmer's Daughter, aside from the main female character, there is her friend Michelle.  While they are separated by distance - one lives on the East Coast, the other the West, the two talk often on the telephone about many things.  Most of it is Michelle trying to "play doctor" to her friend, which does become conversations about a man (it is a Romance).  Angela's mother Maude is always trying to push her daughter into a relationship with a man, although not necessarily the one Angela is interested in.  But the two have other conversations as well, about the farm and whether Angela is overworking herself.  Maude and her other daughter Cassandra (or Cassie) are seen talking with each other, and that conversation ranges from Angela's treatment of her younger siblings during their growing up years to the death of the family's oldest son to what kind of job Maude's husband Philip did before Cassie was born.  Grandma Pearl sticks her nose into Angela's romance, and how the past tragedy makes it hard for Angela to love, but I don't think that one can count.

The two antagonists Cori and Susan definitely count.  While their scenes may be small, they are far from unimportant.  While Susan's feelings for her distant cousin take a turn for the worse because of jealousy over the male lead Craig, Cori's motives are not the same.  Cori believes that sabotaging Angela will buy her freedom back from the local crime boss and save her own failing relationship with her live-in boyfriend.  And Susan's need to pull Angela down attracts another's attention, but we don't see that person - another woman - until the sequel Ring of Fire.  Cori will also have a larger role in the second novel, as will the female State Trooper introduced at the end of Farmer's Daughter.  How large their roles will grow, I don't know yet but I can tell you that their friendship took me by surprise so there is no telling at this point how far it will go.

Daisies are a popular flower
in my series
And one cannot forget the town gossips, Flo and her friend Lucy.  They are often seen gossiping while they tend to the bushy hedgerow between their houses.  Their conversations cover most of the other characters in the books: during the opening scene with Craig and his soon-to-be ex-employee Harry they give blow by blow comments letting us know that this isn't the first time they've seen this; Angela herself is a frequent topic, mostly about her attempt to save the family farm and her past exploits because Flo just cannot admit that she's wrong about Craig's sexuality.

In Ring of Fire, due to release later this summer or early fall, I've added a few new female characters.  Toni, who in many ways will come to replace Michelle.  We all have friendships that wax and wane over the years, some bounce back but some never do.  Angela has a housekeeper whose only given name so far is Nan.  The new antagonist Nikki is often seen alone (although she does have conversations with her girlfriend over the phone), while the other antagonist Veronica is often only seen with her male family members.  There is a scene near the beginning of the book where Angela is in the farmhouse kitchen with her mother and grandmothers - seen through Cassie's viewpoint.  That conversation has nothing to do with a man as it is by and large about Angela: whether she's eating right, whether she's on birth control or not, and why she needs a housekeeper.  Cassie intervenes to take the focus off of her sister and whole new subjects are introduced, mainly Cassie new tongue ring and her sexual exploits at college.  My favorite comment in that scene is when Maude's mother makes a comment to Maude about how her daughters are just like she was growing up.  Maude is still embarrassed about the way she lived when the children were very young and often does not allow mention of it and it will be interesting to see how her character will develop in later novels.  At least for me.  The character of Sherry has never been seen without her husband Kevin, but I can promise you that changes in the third book.

I think part of the reason why we see so few females in important roles, or even crappy roles in both movies and novels is because of how things are in real life. Movies have what I call the "Token Female" just like workplaces will have the Token Female supervisors.  I can't talk about generalities, I can only talk about what I have seen in my own workplaces.  And that is where the aforementioned fear comes in.  I dare not tell tales on any of my work places, past or present.  Not and get away with it.

Unless I don't name them.

One place I have worked, in my department there was only one female supervisor.  One.  There were two supervisor assistants roles filled by women, and there are at least twice as many of those positions as there are supervisors.  I can't begin to tell you the male/female ratio of workers in the whole department, but in my particular section we were mostly women.  I noticed how in promotional videos that the company made these Token Females in leadership positions were always featured, like it was common in our plant.  When the truth is the opposite.  What you saw in the video is it.  None of the upper leadership were women, except for the HR Director. While I am in no way deeming her position, as Human Resources is an important part of any company, she is only one woman.  All the other decision making positions are filled by men.  What the hierarchy looks outside of that plant, I can't tell you as there is very little contact with the front line employees from Corporate.  Their flyers they mailed looked equal, but I know how those kind of things go.

Another place I worked, the night shift supervisor position had a high turnover rate.  When I was hired, there was one man on his way out and other set to take over.  That man lasted in the position about a year.  The woman that took over for him did not last that long.  She gave it up herself.  From there we had another man, and then we went without for awhile just having a "supervisor assistant".  Last I heard the female supervisor they had when I stopped working there is still in charge - which I credit to the change in the leadership above her.  (He often lamented that he could never keep a supervisor for more than a year.)  The biggest reason why we had such a high turnover in that position, and even with the general employees, was because of the attitude of the Night Shift Production Manager.  I think that was his title.  He was unsupportive of all his supervisors, male or female; although he favored the female employees in general - and not always in a good way.  Again, the higher up in the hierarchy you went, the fewer females in leadership there were.

When I worked at the library, the head librarian was male.  The rest of us were all women.  He has since left to another job and his place was taken by a female.  That was after I decided to give the job up as it was too much to deal with at the time as I was trying to work night shift.  It is the job I missed the most.  I was treated the best there, and the job itself made me happy.  This is just one library in the system though. The females tend to outnumber the males, but last I knew the head librarian of that system is now a man.  It is of course a completely different dynamic than the factories I've worked at.  Like night and day.

Strong and courageous
Image downloaded from morgueFile
So once again, I think one of the reasons why females have such a low profile in many novels and movies, is because we are often overlooked in reality. We are passed over for jobs and routinely slighted in our abilities and talents. Things are changing, but never as fast as we'd like them to.

Next time I'll cover a few of my favorite books and movies series that give women their just due.  Series that show woman as equal to men, whether they are good or bad, strong or weak.  Women who are as complex as real women are.

And that's not a bad thing because we are complex.  Many of us play different roles in our daily lives.  Wife, mother, mistress, teacher, friend, doggy walker...the list goes on. We are strong and courageous.  We are weak and cowardly.  We give into temptations.  We deny ourselves our deepest desires.  Why should we expect anything less in the characters we love on screen and on the pages of the books we read.

Until next time, keep reading!

2014 ~ Keeping on  keeping on...because that's what we do

No comments:

Post a Comment