For all that we girls complain about poor representation in media, we aren’t the only ones suffering. Just as there have been token girls in boys’ media, there have been token boys in girls’ media, too. The token girl is often either an action girl who’s seen as one of the guys until she does something “girly” or she’s a flat out damsel in distress. The token boy doesn’t get a better shake. At one end of his extremes, he might be the damsel in distress, constantly captured so the girls have something to do, or he’s emasculated because that was the only way the writers could figure out how to make him one of the girls. At the other end of his extremes, he might be an overbearing chauvinist, becoming an obstacle the girls have to overcome to complete their story.
It’s equal but opposite, creating an “eye for an eye” mentality. And that helps precisely no one.
It still perpetuates the idea that activities must be classified as “masculine” or “feminine”, and if you’re doing an activity that doesn’t match your gender, something must be wrong with you…just with guys in the Seat of Wrong. Amazingly, switching the genders doesn’t make it all right, fair, or anything else good. If anything, as some videos and ads have proven, it actually causes more trouble. Girls, who have earned a reputation for being the more vicious gender when “normal” is challenged by an insider, have been pushing against gender expectations for so long that it’s become normal. Guys don’t have it so lucky. When one pushes on gender expectations, he can expect to be not only mocked by both men and women, but flat out physically attacked by other men for daring to be himself when “himself”challenges the male view of “normal”.
To make matters worse, too many of us turn a blind eye to it…instead of fighting for his rights to just be himself the way we would fight for a fellow woman who was undergoing the same treatment.
Does anybody get this right? Well…not perfectly. We’re not living under the right societal values yet to allow that. But I’d argue the first two attempts to bring Winx Club stateside didn’t do too badly. That’s why I watched the second attempt. It was a magical girl cartoon that didn’t make me want to go on a silly string rampage. If a character was doing something, it was born from the character’s background, not her or his gender. The guys were just as likely to become endangered as the girls, and both genders would work together to solve problems and save the day. It was nice. (For those curious, I walked out on the third when it became clear they had removed too many of the girls’ spines in favor of creating a girls vs boys situation…after I had a really good laugh at their soundalike attempt.)
How can we get it right? A good start would be to take a page from George R. R. Martin’s book, and just write characters, regardless of their gender, as human beings. It works for him and other authors and writers celebrated for being able to successfully navigate this issue; theoretically, it should work for the rest of us, too.