SFC Part 5: Zombies of the patriarchy

(Saving the world from Strong Female Characters so you don’t have to, Part 5 of 9. We’re in the home stretch now!)

Earlier in the essay, we were treated to the spectacle of our essayist pretending he didn’t understand the dictionary definition of sexism. So, he redefined it to something he personally finds absurd, then declared anyone who uses the word “sexism” as it is normally defined to be obviously, inescapably, indubitably a stupid dummy head.

Here, we get the point — seemingly inevitable in any anti-feminist screed — where he doesn’t understand patriarchy:

Now, a rebuttal to this counter argument is that the categories of masculine and feminine are completely artificial, a social product of a sinister conspiracy of the Patriarchy. (I assume this refers to the government of the alien catlike species inhabiting a world circling 61 Ursae Majoris; and I assume and that this is meant as a serious argument, not merely tomfoolery and nonsense like the conspiracy theory behind Marxism, which proposes that investment bankers, not patriarchs, are the conspirators.)”

It’s common for anti-feminists to act as if “patriarchy” means The Patriarchy, as in, a specific group or cabal such as The Illuminati, then ridicule the notion as clearly be the product of a paranoid delusion. While feminists do sometimes use the term that way — as in, “I’d like to thank the patriarchy” — such a usage is both tongue in cheek and metaphorical.

We know perfectly well that patriarchy is not some guys in a room, such that if we could somehow manage to get rid of those guys we’d all live in the free gender utopia of our dreams.

Dr. Strangelove

These guys are not the patriarchy, although patriarchy is why they are all guys.

Patriarchy is a historic pattern of culture, politics and economics, designed to systematically deny full legal, social and economic rights to women. Earlier in this same essay, Wright acknowledged that he was actually on board with women’s suffrage — he thought being unable to vote was a legit injustice that women were correct to work to overcome.


The system that denied women the right to vote or own property in their own names or inherit or serve on juries or any of the myriad things it ever prevented women from doing — that is patriarchy. Right there. It’s a real thing, and that’s what it is.


And you can say “well, okay, then, the patriarchy is dead — we killed it. Women can vote and stuff now.”

True enough. And I would agree that the real, old, traditional patriarchy is, without a doubt, dead. Its heart — the patriarchal bargain, a certain kind of marriage and family arrangement — no longer beats. I’d like to bury it and dance on the grave, but everywhere I look, people like the essayist are trying to bring it back, to the extent that they have the power to do so.

Mr. Wright is so terribly, terribly worried that people are out there doing gender wrong. Why is he worried about that? Why does he feel such a pressing need to declare (at obsessive length) his specifics for properly feminine and properly masculine behavior?

Consider this: if men and women are truly, deeply, essentially different in inescapable ways driven by biology, then nobody needs to explain it to us. Nobody needs to lecture us at great length about doing it wrong. If it’s really natural, then it just happens. And the way it happens is, by definition, natural.

Adam and Eve. I think?

You cannot go against nature, because if you do, go against nature, that’s part of nature too

His urge to take charge of the process somehow — to make sure it happens according to his plan and his sense of how things should be properly arranged — that’s him fighting to keep a semblance of the patriarchy staggering onward.

Dead, the zombie patriarchy shambles on, dripping rotten flesh and trying to eat our brains.

Now we actually get back to the topic of Science Fiction:

My conclusion is that there is not an iota of real difference between the way women in the past were treated in SF stories and women now.

And that’s… another thing he’s kind of right about. Half a point! Only half a point, because I believe what he says is more true of how women are portrayed in the visual arts — movies, TV, comics and video games — than in written stories, but this essay has been sloppy about which kind of SF it’s talking about.

The fake difference is that some women are masculinized in order to satisfy a fundamentally illogical doctrine of Political Correctness. In the next part, I will attempt to explain why Science Fiction needs to be saved from this scourge of absurdity.

This is where his apparent inability to consider the entertainment marketplace as a manifestation of capitalism really trips him up. Why would anybody — in charge of a Marvel Cinematic Universe property, say — do anything to satisfy a “doctrine of political correctness” when there’s no money in it? If there’s money in it, it’s because fans want to see it. And if fans want to see it, what’s his problem?

As for leadership, women cannot be kings for the same reason men cannot be queens. Women in leadership roles do not lead in the same fashion as men do.

Slippery. The question was “leadership” not “kings vs. queens.” Why can’t women be leaders? And the answer is — well, of course they can! For example, some of England’s most interesting and important monarchs were reigning queens! Except, primogeniture is a system specifically engineered to ensure that most of England’s reigning monarchs have been, in fact, kings. That’s patriarchy, okay? That’s just exactly patriarchy.

Let’s hear it for the reigning queens of England! 

As for strength, physical courage is something boys are good at and proud of and naturally inclined to do. Even those effete intellectual men such as myself who do not cook outdoors and bow hunt grizzly bears nor know how to fix a car engine still nonetheless approach life through a metaphor of conflict, war, duels, and tournaments.

Also slippery. He asserts that boys are naturally strong and physically courageous, then admits he is no such thing himself, then tries to defend that it’s all the same, really, because he makes extensive use of the metaphors of war.

Seriously, you want manliness points because of the metaphors you use? That’s.. pathetic.

If Supergirl is from Planet Krypton, fine, she can punch goons through solid brick walls, no problem. Ditto for Starfire of the Teen Titans. If Buffy the Vampire Slayer is possessed by all the strength of the ghosts of all the Slayers back to the First Slayer, fine, she has superduper strength and it is magic. Fine. That is all fine with me.

Yeah, okay. Me too. Except that’s not really how Slayer strength works… oh, never mind. I already questioned his fanboy cred earlier.

But when the heroine is Hit Girl or Batgirl or some leggy blonde selected for her cup size rather than fighting ability, such portrayals of wispy little she-adventuresses able to tackle boatloads of thugs built like linebackers not only as absurdly unrealistic

Seriously, “wispy little she-adventuresses”? That is so damned patronizing I want to punch you myself. And I’ve never thrown a punch in my life. (I do cook outdoors, though. I’m manly enough for that. In fact, I have a Girl Scout badge for it. GIRL SCOUTS ARE MANLIER THAN YOU BY YOUR OWN DEFINITION.)

The comic hero tradition has always allowed for really improbable feats by heroes who are technically not “super” — why is Batgirl so much more unrealistic than Batman, who apparently has the ability to do things like get his spine broken and just, you know, carry on? The problem of the women not looking like warriors — being tiny and all — that’s a Hollywood problem. All the actresses are tiny. The men are often kind of tiny too, although that’s more often disguised with heels and camera angles. Both sexes also have perfect hair under improbable conditions, never need to sleep or eat while an adventure is happening, never pull a muscle, never get a sunburn, never have an attack of gastroenteritis… oh, you know the drill.

When you’re already talking about fantastical fiction, a sudden fussy concern with “realism” in one particular area — female strength, say, or racial diversity — looks awfully motivated. Usually, it has nothing to do with realism, and everything to do with what you, personally, want to see.

The people I know who study martial arts do talk about how unrealistically fight scenes are staged, talk about combat styles that make more sense for women, talk about moves that weaker non-warriors can still use to get out of physical attacks — but they pretty much never single out “oh, she’s a tiny woman, how could she possibly win that fight?” for comment. They know the fact that this woman — tiny Hollywood actress playing her and all — can somehow manage to kick everybody’s ass is the premise.

If you think the premise is dumb, stay home. But don’t watch the movie and then complain about it on the grounds of realism.

Dude, I have four words for you on that score:

Faster than light travel.