The burden of the female-centred show

A few months ago, after I saw Trainwreck, I wrote my review, which was also about Inside Amy Schumer and a response to Lauren Rosewarne’s criticisms of the film. In it, I wrote about how it’s necessary to support art by women, and just because you don’t see it as feminist, it doesn’t mean it isn’t. Feminism isn’t a homogenous entity, which is one of its greatest problems. In an era when Bernie Sanders supporters are mansplaining how Hillary Clinton isn’t a feminist, it gets even more confusing. In my post, I wrote about how Trainwreck wasn’t a film I could think about objectively, I just loved it too much. What I want to stress now is that you shouldn’t love something just because everyone else is telling you to.

There’s a problem with women in Hollywood, we hear it over and over again. In the most recent season of Project Greenlight which I haven’t seen, but have heard a lot about, Matt Damon (who was fantastic in The Martian), told producer Effie Brown, a woman of colour, that having a non-white male director wasn’t important because we need to have diversity in front of the camera. From what I understand, they chose a white guy, and the majority of the film’s cast was white, so it translates. I want to support shows made by women, but I shouldn’t have to like it because it was made by a woman, or because it has a ‘strong female character’ (which is a problematic term in itself) at its centre.

This all comes in light of the latest episode of The Thought Bubble Joanna Robinson and Da7e Gonzalez’ podcast about comic books and comics adjacent culture (I’m in the comics adjacent part of the audience). Both Joanna and Da7e have seen the first however many episodes of Marvel’s Jessica Jones, premiering on Netflix on November 20th. Without spoiling anything, Joanna Robinson said that she has problems with the show. I haven’t seen any of Jessica Jones yet, so I have no ability to agree or disagree with her opinions at this stage, but she had a point I hadn’t thought much about previously. We shouldn’t have to support something just because it’s made by, or centres on a woman. Lauren Rosewarne wanted to like Trainwreck, but it wasn’t her thing. The same goes for Joanna and Jessica Jones.

One of my favourite speeches in all of television is the “Twice as hard to get half as far” speech in the season three premiere of Scandal. It’s true of people who face any kind of disadvantage. We should respect the work that women put into their art, but at the end of the day, that art has to be worthy of our praise. I stopped watching Girls a long time ago. I really identified with the first season, I watched all of the second, and I’ve seen a few episodes of both seasons three and four. I don’t doubt that Lena Dunham is a feminist, it’s just that Girls isn’t a show for me any more.In the era of Peak TV (John Landgraf really is the Mayor of Television for coining that term), shows are competing against each other for our eyeballs, and if they don’t do their job well enough, that’s on them. Networks are cutting episode orders instead of cancelling their shows midseason. Everything’s changing.

A book I’m reading (very slowly) at the moment is Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist. I’ve written before about how feminism is supposed to be this homogenous entity, and there are all these expectations – if you’re a feminist, you have to like this particular show/film/character. Gay writes about how sometimes she feels like a bad feminist for getting really invested in the romance in The Hunger Games, but really, it’s okay to not be the Perfect Feminist. There has always been societal pressure on women to be perfect, and somehow this has transferred over to feminism. Lauren Rosewarne shouldn’t have to like Trainwreck just because it’s made by Amy Schumer, who is a feminist. Women should be supporting each other’s work, but if you don’t like it, that’s okay too. Does the perfect feminist support all other feminist work even if she doesn’t agree with certain aspects of it?

It’s not just enough to have a ‘strong female lead’ at the centre of your show. Shows and characters need depth. This post is an incredibly unorganised bundle of thoughts. It’s important to support women in Hollywood by consuming their work, but at the same time it shouldn’t feel like an obligation. It doesn’t make you a bad feminist if you don’t like Trainwreck, and liking Twilight doesn’t make you a bad feminist either. It’s fascinating that the societal pressure for women to be perfect has been transferred to feminism, and it should be okay just to not like something for whatever (valid) reason.

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