In real life and in the world of fiction, it’s no secret that feminism is incredibly demonized; feminists are deemed as “unjustifiably” angry, illogical, childish, and our appearances are mocked till we appear aesthetically and emotionally cartoon-like.
The feminist artist in particular is seen as the wackiest of feminists; her body covered a little too provocatively in paint, speaking in vague terms about how her abstract piece is an attack against the patriarchy. The thing about stereotypes is that if you fit a certain stereotype, then that’s great, but when a piece of media forces a woman into a stereotype in order to amuse their audience, therein lies the problem.
An example of this kind of problematic stereotyping is Maude Lebowski, from Coen Brothers’ classic The Big Lebowski. Maude fits the feminist stereotype pretty much to a T: She mentions the vagina twice in one statement, is quite cold in nature and in the way she articulates her thoughts about men and art, and she talks about art like it’s synonymous with politics.
Maude isn’t painted in a particularly negative light, but her odd entrance seems to be a plot device to confuse the Dude, and add to the intentionally bizarre atmosphere of the movie. But feminist art isn’t a laughing matter, it’s not weird for-the-sake-of-weird, it’s as deep as any other type of art.
Another more negative example would be the minor character of Margaret in Ghost World, an artist classmate of main character Enid. Margaret’s art project (a tampon in a tea cup) is implied to be lazy, through an eye-roll from Enid and clunky dialogue that suggests Margaret doesn’t really understand her own feminist art, since her teacher needs to finish the thought for her.
It actually gets worse in TV. In a season five episode of Frasier, we’re introduced to a passing fling of the main character named Caitlin. She is a very sexual free spirit who makes cushions filled with body hair, and paints modernistic paintings. This, just like the other feminists I’ve mentioned, sounds awesome until we see how the writers present her to our main character: howling at the moon.
Although these characters reflect real life feminists, the context of their appearances harms those who the characters are based on; the artists who do paint with menstrual blood, the teenage feminists who do find it difficult to articulate their social justice thoughts, and the women who confidently dress against the male gaze dress-code.
But why do these writers put their characters through this mockery? Perhaps it’s intimidation, they don’t understand us, so they mock us and our art. Comedy is a defence mechanism against ignorance, so maybe when society understands feminism a little more, our representation in media will hopefully go from mockery, to being treated like the other characters on screen; with respect.
Words: Stephanie Watson