Tuesday, March 27, 2012

An Unnecessarily Sexy Description

If you had to describe, say... Indiana Jones, what kind of adjectives would you use? Daring, perhaps; capable, adventurous, and lucky would also work, considering how many of his plans were improvised on the spot. The same is true of most of the heroes of paper, stage and screen - these are competent people, able to face challenges that would slam most of us back on the mat without even blinking, standing in the face of danger and death and making it through because that's what heroes do. Words like bold, uncompromising, tough, and fearless tend to make the rounds fairly often, as well.

For dudes, that is. When it comes to female characters, the score is strikingly different. For a heroine, someone has decided that one of the most important factors is whether or not she's attractive - that the things a woman can do, what qualities she brings to the situation, are of less importance than what she looks like. This idea has been hideously persistent down through the years, but now that people are finally starting to realize that we should know better than that, this double standard just becomes more galling and grating - like a train screeching across old, rusty rails.

The DVD case for Tomorrow Never Dies, for example, describes James Bond as being "devastatingly cool," because in Hollywood that's something only a man can be. Imagine that they made a movie about Jane Bond - what description would be more likely? Something like "devastatingly cool" or, more likely, "stunning and sexy?"

It happens since I see evidence of it every day, even if it's not always thrown into my face. That's just the chance I take now whenever I board a SkyTrain, since they started placing ads for the new Ava Lee novel, The Wild Beasts of Wuhan. I growled at it inwardly the first time I saw it, then again, until I took a photo of one of the ads so I could properly tear it down without doing something that would get me a talking-to from one of those nice SkyTrain Attendants.

If Indiana Jones was likewise described as being fearless, sexy, and lethal - all qualities which are, admittedly, beyond argument - we might be better off, I think.

This frustrates me, this irritates me, because decisions to present people like this give a fresh jolt of electricity to the shambling beast that is the traditional view of women in Western culture. Especially in a non-visual medium such as a novel, but equally true for the world in general, whether or not a woman is "sexy" shouldn't warrant such prominent consideration unless it's directly relevant to the situation at hand.

Here's the problem: it's all marketing. This ad was most likely dreamed up in some office after being bounced from person to person in some committee, trying to maximize its impact. I can tell that's what happened because when I go to the website of the author, Ian Hamilton - an author whose name, incidentally, is practically absent from the ad itself - take a look at the words he chooses to describe Ava Lee. Words like "methodical." "Determined." "Confident." Certainly stands in stark contrast to the presentation in the ad, don't it?

Except, like I said, the ad reinforces that shambling beast. The continued presentation of women through this kind of prism encourages the belief that this sort of thing is okay, that there's nothing wrong with the implication that one's attractiveness is a question of fundamental importance for half of humanity. It helps give life to antediluvian attitudes that have no place in a civilized society - a society that, in many respects, still treats a woman's body as public property.

It's a relic of times far more barbarous than ours. We need to do what we must to relegate those relics to history, where they most assuredly belong.

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