… and nor was I a broad-shouldered buff jock, or a slight-but-sharp bookish intellectual, neither the playground comic or geek (or nerd), nor was I the popular plastic, or a counter-culture pop-punk student. I had my gothic stage (but let’s be honest, who doesn’t?) but it wasn’t for me, so I came out of school, high school, and university somewhat characterless.
I was male, apparently, though I rarely thought of it as anything more than a word that had been shunted on me at birth and which had something to do with the additional appendage I had positioned in a surprisingly vulnerable place (thanks evolution) and the lack of other physical characteristics: breasts, shapeliness; certain sensitivities of the body that appeared other than mine. Though I never sought this as the basis of my identity; it was a ‘tick the box’ kind of affair, though later I would learn the complexities of gender, of the horrors conducted under the ruling of men, and of the gender inequality that permeated the everyday.
Yet note that the characters highlighted in that first paragraph are genderless. The broad-shouldered jock is probably the most gender-specific of the lot, conjuring up images of American Football teens with thick chests and short hair, but in my High School there were women that were far hardier than me, far more competent at sports and I was ready to call them ‘jocks’ should I have felt the need to refer to general archetypes. That is what these are, aren’t they? Archetypes, characters, cookie-cutter somethings that don’t really do justice to the true depth of a person, they’re simply words we use in order to describe someone. These words have gone through the process of amelioration or deterioration and have, in time, become potentially insulting or fashionable.
So I wasn’t a Manic Pixie Girl, and I wasn’t a Jock, and I wasn’t a Goth or a Geek or a Nerd because I never had any intention of summarising myself as one. ‘I’ was ‘I’, regardless of whatever others wanted to see me as. Maybe one day someone in the playground would define me as bookish and therefore a Geek, whereas another time I might be caught hanging around with the more ‘unseemingly’ groups and be defined as a Chav, maybe even a bully (though I rarely hurt anyone, and seemed largely incapable of intimidation – only in self defence). My movements around the playground and even today would be a Spiro-cartographers nightmare; an erratic pattern of shifts from one group to the next to create a shapeless, unaesthetic squiggle. Somewhere, between all those points and counter-points was myself. A knot in the machine.
Stereotypes are only useful in the real world as indicators, but in fiction and entertainment they come to symbolise the real (the real as in the reality of the world they are contained within) but they are also the consequence of lazy, unimaginative, and sometimes ‘safe’ writing – which is why we often see them in mainstream pulp. The modern Doctor Who is a fantastic example of this: a weekly dose of BBC cheese where the doctors keep getting younger and younger and their female associates act as subordinate sidekick. Yes, it is potentially very sexist and yes, the female character has become replaced by a That Girl but, let me just ask; ‘who the fuck is the doctor?’
What do I mean? I mean it’s a case of copy and paste, besides making the doctor younger very little has changed regarding the personality of the main character, Doctor Who is like your everyday superhero movie; different heroes, different settings, different plots but everything is largely exactly the same. Guess who will save the day? We KNOW who will save the day, and whether someone’s about to throw a rock or launch a Nuclear Warhead we know somethings going to happen to save the day. It’s a doddle, really – but it’s mainstream culture, it’s everyday viewing, it’s uninventive writing – but it’s easy to read/watch and people lap it up.
If there was an interesting deep female character I might be a little more inclined to watch Doctor Who, but the same could be said of the male character. I don’t care if they have breasts or not. I don’t care if they have a penis. Just give me a goddamn decent character.
In male-orientated fiction the main character is often a gun-toting Bond-a-like, firing off rounds from helicopters and cars, bedding ‘sexy’ exotic women and making things explode that shouldn’t explode. I’m a man so apparently that should excite me, but I’m sorry to say it doesn’t. Nor does the idea of page three, or women dolled up in fashion magazines, nor do I want to be ‘saved’ by a Manic Pixie Girl or play rugby with the lads. Does that make me any less of a man? Yes, apparently, but I have no intention of being a man, nor of being a woman, I intend to be myself – and that’s just fine.
Just fine if you’re a man, of course, women have a much harder time ‘just being’. Sexism exists and is still a tangible entity. It continues to affect women in society and that is something that needs to be dealt with, however, how we deal with that is very important. To chastise any 2D female character for being 2D and embodying now defunct female traits in fact risks immortalising this image of the feminine rather than dispelling it. I find it easier to think of it this way: I burnt myself out at university one time, and, when I was almost better I met a friend who told me I looked ‘like I was recovering’ and that he was glad ‘things were looking up.’ Recover – to return to a normal state of health, which means to say that before this I was unwell. I was unwell, wasn’t I? And that sickness was awful wasn’t it? You shouldn’t be thinking about how unwell you were, you know, that just makes you more unwell doesn’t it? How do you feel now, Hayden? How do you feel? How well are you really?
How male am I? How do we define male? How do we define female? How do male and female relate to one another? To what extent does my gender define me? To what extent do my genes define me? How similar is my DNA to yours? How come I look silly when I run and you don’t? Why do people care what they look like?
When a female character acts as a sidekick to a male protagonist there’s the assumption that the woman is acting in support and wants to ‘be’ the male protagonist. When a woman plays the lead and saves a man, there’s the assumption that she is doing so because the man wants to have a woman save him. Is Ripley in Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’ a role model or a sex object? Is a woman with a chainsaw a symbol of power, or a sexually provocative image? When a man has no significant other is he ‘less able’ than other men, or is he simply the modern man? What is our culture trying to say to us, how is it saying these things and why do we trust in them?
Do women not fantasise about men in the same way that men fantasise about women? Do women fantasise about women and men men? When we attempt to occupy a character we will always let the person that falls for us down – not because of the errors of the character but because we are not being true to our character. A man who pretends to be the bookish witty type will one day be unmasked as a phony as will the Manic Pixie Girl wannabe. This is perhaps more dangerous for writers – everyday occupying characters in their texts so as to make them as full as possible – it can be hard to detach from these fictions, and it can often be easier to act as a character in the real world rather than be the stumbling oddity writers often are.
Fact of the matter is, it’s not about being a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, or a Goth or a Witty Smart Something, or a Rugby Playing Sports Nut, or The Protagonist. It’s not about being male or female but about being yourself and finding your comfort levels. Some of us are freedom fighters, others of us are scared and frightened of freedom. What am I?
I am the genderless non-specific, the nationless, the borderless, the protagonist of a story that is mine and mine only, a story that will not invade other texts, I am the other and the same, I am the sun and the rain, the non-narrative, I am not-myself. I will not be reduced to the symbol of my appendage, the date of my birth or the shape of my body, the number on a piece of card or the length of my hair, nor my dress sense or, and most importantly, my theory or anyone else’s. I am I, not more than I am – see me as you see fit, describe me, generalise me, incapacitate me with words but I am. I am.