The highest good is like water.
Water gives life to the ten thousand things and does not strive.
It flows in places men reject and so is like the Tao.
(—from the Tao Te Ching, chapter 8)
More than a zillion books, articles, movies, documentaries, podcasts, etc. have already been published addressing feminism, and various aspects of feminism, with possibly thousands more in the works as I write this, as the subject is of course very much in fashion. So this relatively brief essay, coming from someone who hasn’t read any of the books (except maybe for a few novels) and damn few of the articles—largely because I avoid fashions like the plague—may appear to be so simplistic or unrealistic as to be derisory. But part of the difficulty in social issues is maintaining a detached perspective; and as someone who has opted out of social worldliness I do see what is going on in this world from a significantly different angle, less informed in some ways, certainly not fashionable, but seeing basic assumptions that are going unquestioned, with herd instinct limiting the options for almost everyone. So I figure, what the hell.
In recent decades there has been a remarkable trend in action movies. The trend is to portray women as beautiful nuclear-powered badasses, often wearing tight black leather, who are able to kick the collective buttocks of entire rooms full of tough male fighters, monsters, and/or predatory space aliens. They often show their femininity only through their female face, body, and voice, and sometimes by kicking ass on their enemies without messing up their hair or makeup. Following is a very incomplete list of relatively well known examples.
~Emma Peel of the old TV show “The Avengers.” She was an early forerunner of the tight-leather-pants-wearing badass beauty, and was reincarnated in a bad movie remake that I didn’t see.
~Some of the more violently lethal James Bond villainesses.
~Ellen Ripley in the Alien movies (especially the sequels).
~Trinity in the Matrix movies.
~Æon Flux, in the movie by the same name.
~“The Bride” who slaughters entire crowds of armed gangsters with a sword in the Kill Bill movies.
~Violet Song Jat Shariff who does likewise in the movie Ultraviolet.
~Natasha Romanova, alias the Black Widow, in various Marvel comic book movies.
~Queen Artemisia in 300: Rise of an Empire, who bears practically no resemblance whatsoever with the historical Queen Artemisia.
~Sergeant Rita Vrataski, alias the Angel of Verdun, alias “Full Metal Bitch,” in Edge of Tomorrow.
~Imperator Furiosa, with a crew cut, dirt, and one arm, but still beautiful, in the latest Mad Max movie.
~And last but certainly not least, Lieutenant Nyota Uhura in the new Star Trek movies, who deserves special mention. The new Star Trek movies generally portray their main characters as very similar to the originals on the old TV show—except Uhura, who differs radically. From being just a competent, intelligent, and courageous communications officer, she became yet another high-stepping alien-stomping badass beauty, who furthermore apparently gets her freak on with Mr. Spock. There presumably was a perceived need for an ultra-strong beautiful female badass in the “updated” version of Star Trek, and a communications officer was the best they could come up with under the circumstances.
Anyway, I’m not exactly trying to badmouth this remarkable trend, as I have really liked some of these movies; in fact The Matrix, with its ass-kicking, tight-leather-wearing Trinity, is one of my absolute favorite movies of all time, although certainly not just because of her. However, with all due respect, I would like to venture a question: Has there ever really been a woman like any of the monster slayers listed above? There have been quite a few genuinely Rambo-like men in history who accomplished some major ass-kicking and sword-hacking against numerous enemies, face to face, like Spartacus, King Richard the Lionheart, and the samurai master Miyamoto Musashi; but I can’t think of a single woman who could, and did, fatally mess up numerous armed male enemies (let alone zombies or space aliens) in hand to hand combat. They may have existed, but I don’t know who they are, or were. The historical Queen Artemisia wasn’t one of them.
Nevertheless, many take female characters of this sort very seriously, seemingly at face value as valid representations of women. With regard to the alien-slaying Ellen Ripley of the Alien movies, film critic John Scalzi considered her to be quite realistic, even in the sequels, and actually wrote of her, “Ripley isn’t a fantasy version of a woman.” (With his emphatic bold type.) This is apparently because aside from evolving into an ultra-lethal badass in the sequels, she has a nuanced personality—an extraordinarily tough one, but nuanced nonetheless. For "The Mary Sue," a blog/website which apparently deals with feminism in pop culture, another movie critic, Teresa Jusino, wrote an article on nuanced female characters which bears the subtitle “Why we need more Rita Vrataskis.” (Ms. Vrataski, to clarify here, is one of the badass beauties listed above, who in the movie Edge of Tomorrow almost single-handedly defeated an invading alien horde in a certain Battle of Verdun, becoming a world hero, and who is much braver and psychologically stronger than her male counterpart, played by Tom Cruise.) Jusino writes, “To me, Rita Vrataski is exactly the kind of Nuanced Female Character we should encourage in film.” A big reason why she perceives the need for more female characters like this is because she wants more women in films who are “not caricatures.” As though beautiful young women fearlessly kicking alien ass all over a battlefield are not caricatures. (There are even some feministic movie critics who consider ass-kickers like Rita and Trinity to be not badass enough.)
Perhaps a more important question than “Has a woman like this ever really existed on this planet?” would be “Why is there such a fashionable demand for female movie characters like this nowadays?” Past societies also have had mythological women who were physically tougher and stronger than almost any man, although their supermasculine toughness was usually tied up somehow with “purity”—once they would lose their virginity, rather like Samson losing his hair, they would become ordinary women—and the modern beautiful dragon slayer with perfect fingernails tends not to give a damn about virginity. The new Uhura mating with Spock comes to mind as an obvious example.
The answer to this big question seems plainly obvious actually: As Teresa Jusino freely admits, it is for “those who want gender parity in pop culture.” Obviously, it is a political-correctness-conditioned attempt to portray women as equal to men. Plus of course it’s just kind of mind-blowing and cool to watch beautiful young women beating the hell out of everyone, often in intricate, graceful movements choreographed like dancing.
There is another remarkable trend lately, more subtle than action movies; and this one is in so-called “real life.” The trend is for men in Western society to be softer, more timid, in some ways more “feminine,” with old-fashioned masculinity or machismo becoming more and more frowned upon as politically incorrect. In America this fashion is most conspicuous in the New Age subculture; once I had a rather feministic New Age American woman actually complaining to me that men are no longer allowed to be men. The movie Fight Club portrays this emasculation of the modern male in a (partly) symbolic form. And just recently a European woman told me that the softening and weakening of men is even more prevalent in Western Europe, possibly facilitated by the European pride of being “civilized” as well as the apparent phenomenon that Europe is less divided into subcultures than America. But although this trend is very different from what is happening in the fantasy world of action movies, the purpose of it appears to be essentially the same: the modern drive toward the equality of women and men.
These two cultural trends, it seems to me, are based upon a confused idea that in order to be equal, men and women should be the same, or much more the same than was previously the case. Thus women should be more masculine and/or men should be more feminine, supposedly. But I consider neither to be necessary, natural, or even a good idea, even though it might turn out to be sustainable for all I know. Although at a very advanced philosophical level I can accept that the duality of masculine/feminine is to be transcended, at the very unenlightened level of mainstream worldly society I don’t think that is such a good idea either. That women and men are to be equal I agree with 100%; the question is how they are to be equal, and sameness is definitely not the only kind of equality.
It makes simple, perfect sense that there should be as little gender discrimination as possible, positive or negative, with regard to laws of the land and human rights. With regard to whether something is illegal or not, or whether this person or that person gets hired for a job, maleness and femaleness ideally would not be an issue. This does not mean that there should be anything resembling affirmative action; for example it would be absurd to require NFL football teams to recruit equal numbers of female and male players. Whoever can do the job the best is the one who should be hired; and if that means heavy physical labor is a predominantly masculine line of work, well, Mother Nature and Darwinian sexual selection are to blame for that. But even if more miners, mechanics, and soldiers are male, that does not necessarily mean that females are not equal. This should not be a difficult concept to comprehend.
Also, even though males and females are not the same, still, societal roles should not require aggressive, tough women to follow traditionally feminine pursuits, and gentle, timid men to pursue traditionally masculine ones. On the other hand, people should be allowed to think for themselves with regard to how to live their lives, and not be coerced by premodern traditions OR postmodern trends in political correctness. But unfortunately most people don’t think for themselves all that much. Fashion trends, political correctness, and propaganda drive the herd this way or that way. It is unfortunate maybe, but that’s just the way it is.
One issue that deserves consideration is that society in general, including most feminists, are accepting fundamentally masculine assumptions by default, with the aforementioned cinematic beautiful superbitches being a case in point. Gender equality is viewed through a predominantly masculine lens, even by women. An additional case in point is the word empowerment, which is a kind of rallying cry for so many females in America. But the very word “empowerment” is based upon the word “power,” which represents much more a masculine ideal, with masculine connotations, than a feminine one. This is not to say that women do not have power, or that they should not have it, but it does suggest that femininity is seen through a traditional masculine lens even by women themselves, with genuinely feminine virtues being downplayed in order to compete with men at their own game.
But there is a severe handicap in trying to compete with men on a predominantly masculine playing field: Much in the same way that traditional Eastern countries cannot realistically hope to outcompete the West in the field of scientifically honed capitalist democracy (with China’s new juggernaut status already showing indications of extreme stress), since it is an alien intrusion into these Eastern countries and something that did not evolve there naturally, even so, most women cannot realistically hope to be equal to men while adopting a masculine point of view and going with axioms invented by men. The very fact that women are waiting for men to allow their “empowerment” indicates that they really are not equal in that sense; if they were really equal in that particular sense they could simply take it for themselves without waiting decades for men to comply. The fundamental outlook is biased in favor of men, and women, including feminists, are accepting much of that outlook without examination, without seriously questioning it.
This is not to say, I hasten to emphasize, that women are not equal to men. I consider them already equal in the most essential ways, without necessarily having to wait for anything or to demand anything. But their equality simply is not masculine, with the possible exception of a small minority of women who are naturally, if you will pardon the expression, “butch.” Women, generally speaking, have their own set of virtues which are equal to those of men, even though society may undervalue these virtues because it has been based on a predominantly masculine world view since ancient times, possibly since prehistoric times.
One nuclear-powered beautiful ass-kicker from the action movies who is not on the list above, but who is certainly worthy of mention at this point, is little Babydoll in the movie Sucker Punch. (The following discussion may contain spoilers for those who haven’t seen the movie. Consider yourself warned.) In a way she is the most realistic of them all—while at the very same time she as a nuclear superbitch is most obviously a caricature fantasy woman. At the beginning of the movie she is a girl brutally abused by a psychopathic stepfather who kills her younger sister (possibly her mother also), accuses her of the crime, and has her committed to a mental hospital, where she is to undergo a lobotomy to keep her silent. Under these unbearably harsh conditions she retreats into a fantasy world, in which she imagines herself to be a white slave in a brothel, with fellow inmates being her colleagues in the male entertainment industry. From this realm she occasionally enters a deeper one in which she and her young cohorts become stereotypical beautiful badasses taking down giants, zombies, and monsters in Ramboesque melee fighting—dodging bullets and dragon flames, wielding swords with total lethality, and generally kicking superhuman ass all over the place. So at one level she uses her feminine beauty and sexuality, plus courage, as a means of controlling and defeating brutal men, and at the next she goes straight into the realm of masculine ass-kickery; yet both of these scenarios are the more or less delusional coping mechanisms of a very traumatized, imprisoned, seemingly helpless and doomed young woman. In the reality of the mental hospital she scores her real victory, and shows her real heroism and “empowerment,” which is found in feminine compassion and self-sacrifice. And at the heartbreaking climax of the movie Babydoll is genuinely happy, for the very first time. I suppose that is the sucker punch indicated in the title: Everyone is conditioned to assume that she’s going to blast her way out like a man, or at least exploit her sexuality with men as a way out, and then she manifests exquisite feminine virtue to achieve the “perfect victory.” Which, to those who are conditioned to see the world in a masculine way, may be seen as a cheat. This no doubt is a major reason why critics disliked the movie: It’s not a great movie, but it’s not a bad one either; what it is, is a politically incorrect movie which shows a real but despised way in which women are just as great as men are. But in a different way from men.
Sucker Punch was condemned as misogynistic by some politically correct film critics. They accused the movie of not “empowering” women. Some of them just didn’t understand the movie. But others could not appreciate that meekness, compassion, and self-sacrifice themselves are a kind of “power.” This seems to be a fundamental problem: From a masculine point of view which women have adopted, being genuinely, naturally feminine just isn’t equal! And this despite the wisest people in history and the most advanced spiritual traditions endorsing meekness, gentleness, compassion, patience, “subservience,” and self-sacrifice as supreme virtues. But society is not particularly wise. Again, there is confusion here between “equal” and “the same”; it is an unnecessary limitation of perspective, a narrowness of view, and an inherently sexist, even misogynistic one besides, indulged in even by feminists themselves. So long as an unenlightened masculine ethic is employed to interpret feminine empowerment, which is exactly what is happening in the mainstream of Western feminism, then women are essentially fucked.
Since I’ve been carrying on about how women do not need to be like men in order to be equal, I would like to give one example of a person I consider to be very feminine, yet obviously “empowered” and the equal of any man: the musician Kate Bush.
She had written music since she was around twelve years old, and was “discovered” at fifteen by David Gilmour of Pink Floyd. Her first hit single, “Wuthering Heights,” was written when she was around seventeen. She was this thin little soprano-singing faerie girl who sang with such intensity that some were taken aback by it. At first the businessmen wanting to make money from producing her music tried to call the shots, but before long they bowed their heads to her genius, or Muse, because she simply knew better than they did how to present her music. Eventually she not only wrote her own songs but created and choreographed the videos and even produced the albums. Somewhat like William Blake, she was driven to express her inspiration as purely and completely as she was able, even to the point of seeming so intensely self-indulgent as to be embarrassing to some, or even a little crazy. But she had to express herself fully, making herself completely vulnerable in the process. The fact that she is also very pretty is almost totally irrelevant. At the peak of success she stopped performing publicly for many years so that her son could have a normal childhood. On a BBC documentary about Bush, fellow musician Natasha Khan, alias Bat for Lashes, says this:
I really thank Kate, because these touchstones like “This Woman’s Work,” that kind of song, is um, it’s celebrating everything that’s so wonderful about being a woman, and being nurturing and intuitive and emotional and gentle and sensual, and just, like, really intimate…. People don’t put their hearts on the line in that vulnerable way very much, and it’s really, as an artist myself it’s helped me to not be frightened to show…as much of my vulnerability as a woman that I can, and in that, be powerful.
Which incidentally brings up the idea of what it is like to be a woman, which is interesting to me, although of course being male I can’t really say what it’s like.
Anyway, I consider Kate to be one of an infinite number of possible examples of truly feminine empowerment: a person who is physically small with a high-pitched voice and probably incapable of beating anyone up, yet is intuitively, creatively, vulnerably, with inspiration, driven to bare her heart, so to speak. The effects of her Muse cause some to feel uncomfortable, or even disdainful, but leave others in awe. With regard to the tough, nuanced ass-kickers in tight leather pants, at least they can be intuitive. (I may as well add here that most of Kate Bush’s music isn’t my style, but still I respect what she has done with her life.)
As part of my minimal studies for this essay I actually consulted a female, especially with regard to her feelings about Natasha Khan’s statement about femininity above; and she referred me to a podcast of a recent symposium on feminism, especially as it fares in the UK, to give me some idea as to where feminism is at nowadays; and I listened to it with interest. There was a high-profile, “high-powered” American feminist participating who seemed to endorse, even to take for granted, the idea that women need to be taught “how to act like men.” Ack! But a little later on in the podcast a British Darwinian evolutionary biologist, a female one, began pointing out that biologically there really are significant differences between men and women, not only physical but psychological as well (for example, men have evolved to be more competitive), and that modern feminism has been “derailed” by confounding equality with sameness. She also pointed out that in the most liberal societies, in which women have the most choice with regard to how they live their lives, their choices differ even more widely from those of men than in less liberal societies. She pointed out that if allowed a total freedom to choose, women not only choose different priorities in life, but even when they share priorities with men, they go about realizing them differently. Also, women are much more likely to freely choose to raise children instead of pursuing a professional career. This speaker, asserting that it is not sex differences but sexism which should be challenged, was unquestionably the most controversial and challenging speaker at the conference, with the most (polite) disagreement aimed at her from the other participants; the high-powered American could actually be heard whispering “I don’t believe it” on one occasion, and just plain vocalized it on another. But the evolutionary biologist had empirical science backing her up rather than political correctness and ideological wishful thinking. And of course I considered her statements to be most in accordance with my own understanding of the situation. Not only do I have a background in biology, but I have distanced myself from society sufficiently that it is easy to see my species as a type of hominid primates. We are animals laden with animal instincts, with significant differences between the genders, speaking generally with regard to averages, and no amount of political correctness is going to change that. Once I read in a book on the evolution of sex (The Red Queen, by Matt Ridley) that a man from New York, psychologically, has less in common with a woman from New York than he has with a man from the highlands of New Guinea. Almost needless to say, the author received death threats for having published his ideas.
A point that should be seriously considered by all feminists is, Exactly what sort of equality do women want? The right to imitate men, or to be as bad as men? So much feminism of the past has been geared toward precisely this. Or do they want the right to follow as their own heart leads them? If women want to be equal, then let them be equal! Deep down they’re already equal, even if most men and most governments don’t recognize this essential fact. On the other hand, if they can’t be equal unless men voluntarily let them, then they’re simply not equal and never will be, at least not in that respect.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with men and women being different, especially considering that equality and sameness are not synonymous. It is possible to be very different, yet still equal. Life itself is possible due to the harmonious balance of contrary forces: female and male, order and chaos, security and freedom, building up and tearing down, Milton’s God and Blake’s Devil, Apollo and Dionysus, yin and yang. To give one simplistic example, and speaking very generally of course, women temper men’s instinctive aggression, and men temper women’s instinctive insecurity. That may sound very politically incorrect and socially unacceptable, but it is a fairly obvious biological trend in the human species, and kind of a beautiful one actually.
I reiterate that ideally everyone would have equal protection under the law and under the political constitution, with equal rights in such a form that gender is irrelevant, or as irrelevant as possible. Everyone ought to have the right to decide for themselves how they ought to live a fulfilling life, within reason; which of course means women can be aggressive and men can be timid. Why not? But they should determine themselves and not be led, sheeplike, by premodern traditions or postmodern gender-issue fashions. A tough woman should not be prevented from being like a man if she is able and willing, yet she shouldn’t be urged to it either. It should be entirely up to her.
To conclude this conclusion I would like to point out that to the extent that one makes a social issue out of gender, to that extent it thereby becomes artificial and no longer “authentic.” A big reason why deer, rabbits, birds, and babies are authentic and not hypocritical is because they don’t cultivate social issues. Consequently it is best to keep gender issues relegated to such artificialities as laws, constitutions, and business policies; and with regard to an individual’s personal life, it would seem that the ideal is just to be true to one’s own innate nature, not to artificial traditions, old or new. Just be yourself and you’re automatically authentic, in addition to being essentially equal.
Scalzi, John: “Ellen Ripley Is Clearly the Best Female Character in Scifi Film, and That’s a Problem”
Jusino, Teresa: “Edge of Tomorrow’s Angel of Verdun: Nuanced Female Characters (Why we need more Rita Vrataskis.)”
An interesting hour-long BBC documentary on the life of Kate Bush:
Bush, Kate: “Watching You Without Me,” a song from side 2 of Hounds of Love, about a woman who drowns in a river, after which her spirit travels home and tries in vain to communicate with her mate (the weird vocal effects symbolize her failed attempts at communication)
The podcast: “What Next for Feminism?” (The evolutionary biologist stating that the more free women are the more they differ from men is towards the end)