Do Women Have It Better in Politics or Pop Culture?

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In a piece for Slate this week, Emily Bazelon and Hanna Rosin run down some of the  new "scripts," or political personas, available to women in the 2010 election season. What makes this midterm "amazing," they observe, "is that a female candidate can be almost anything she wants to be."As recently as two years ago, the authors write, "women in politics had only a few limited moves"--Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin represented pretty much the only viable approaches. Today, though, there exist a number of "new and subtle ways that a lady pol can mix up the tough and the vulnerable." Bazelon and Rosin applaud the new, more nunaced landscape, and express the hope that "this election will drive away some of the tired old images—lesbian, indecisive, 'mom in sneakers.'"

It's interesting to contrast this expansion of the female political landscape with the stagnation on film. A recent infographic on the the pop-culture criticism site Overthinking It presents a Female Character Flowchart, which maps the various ways in which film, television and comic books make their female characters into well-worn archetypes, rather than three-dimensional figures capable of carrying a story themselves. The chart is impressive in scope, calling on everything from Garden State to Avatar to Firefly to The Muppet Show. "It seems like Hollywood has a significantly harder time writing non-stereotypical female characters than male ones," explains the creator of the chart, "so I made this chart to help out."

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How do these two works present similar or contrasting views of "acceptable" female roles in politics and film? Here's a point-by-point comparison.


Involves: Real people

Number of archetypes listed: Five

Types include: Pure Mama Grizzly; Corporate Tigress; The Emasculator; The Umbrage-Taker; Linda McMahon's weird mash-up of grandmother and wrestling mogul

Conclusions: "Among the many new things a woman candidate can be is the candidate for the men, not the ladies."


Involves: Fictional characters (plus Yoko Ono and Michelle Rodriguez)

Number of archetypes listed: More than 60

Types include: Cutesy Badass; Annoying Overachiever; Oedipal Mother; Manic Pixie Dream Girl

Conclusions: "Two-dimensional characters are the backbone of fiction... However, if you find that all or most of your main male protagonists are well-developed and all or most of your female characters are not, you should probably start worrying a little."

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