I Tiptoe Around (Some) Empowered Women in Literature and TV

This semester, I’ve been studying American Indian Survivance Discourse. I’ve been studying code-switching and the importance of diversity in voice through minority writing. I’ve been studying transgender literature. Fairy tale literature. LGBQ literature. It’s beautiful.

Most recently, I’ve been studying the poet Adrienne Rich. While all the subjects I put in my head this semester has had an impact on me, to varying degrees, Rich never ceases to explode my thought. Boom. And the kicker is, I studied her seven years ago with similar effect. Her insights are mind-curling, deep and twisting and nearly self-aware. And she made sense, on Thursday, in a way that fit something I’ve been thinking about for a while.

She said that for her to be a truly independent woman writer, she had to stop using men’s sensibilities and styles while writing.

Seems obvious, right?

Yet the way she breaks her evolution down is powerful. She learned her craft off male writers, studied them, emanated them in her writing. Then she stepped back and realized she wasn’t a man, so why was she empowering herself this way? Then, as a way to react against masculine writing, she found her own style of empowerment. She didn’t simply write women mirroring the tendencies of men in her poetry and essays to show strength. She stopped approaching empowerment through a hierarchical stand, for she realized a deeper power in the communal conversation. (Not saying the hierarchy no longer existed for her; it certainly did, and she understood the importance of it)

She wrote about empowering women not through the lens of men, but through the lens of women. Inconsequently, one classmate wrote a question for the class to answer: “Does Rich hate men?” The answer is no. Absolutely not. Does Rich separate her writing, and power focus from men whenever she can? Absolutely so.

We coincide when I watch TV shows where women throw their strength around, sharpen knives on leather boots of their fallen prey, talk like they’re made of steel and fight their way to the top. There’s a place for this, obviously, but when I see this I see a male role with a female actor. Like, I have the idea that a writer just kept writing the same kind of part, over and over, and someone up top said, “Hey! We need more empowered women!” And the writer changed the name from Joe to Josephine, stamped approval, and everyone applauded the empowerment.

And it is, after a fashion. Women in main roles that aren’t subjecting themselves to men, for the story, or for the emotional connectivity of the Observer? I’m all for it.

But. I don’t think Rich would have the same opinion on this, and I agree with her (see how I place myself behind Rich? I’m also studying political sociolinguistic discourse…). I see an empowerment that’s been shaped through my readings this semester. Through Natalie Diaz, through Susan Mitchell, Rich, Casey Plett, Randa Jarrar. Woman (and trans) writers that create power through a medium other than reflected maleness. They don’t do bar brawls and hyper masculine shows of aggression (again, not saying this is purely a man’s place. It isn’t. I’m trying to separate two forms of empowerment); they watch their brothers, friends, neighbors do it. The strength of womanhood, for Rich (and for me), is a different thing than the strength of reflected systematic manhood.

I don’t see a whole lot of this in television–particularly in fantasy and scifi genres. I’m certain a lot of great TV is out there with the kind of empowerment I talk about, but a lot of genre fiction and mainstream fiction simply replaces Joe with Josephine. Since I’m a privileged middle class white cis male, there are a lot of people that say I can’t talk with any kind of authority on this. But even though I’m all that, I’m still a little tired of the protagonists, antagonists, heroes and anti-heroes being masculine in design and action.

Give me more Rich-type empowerment.


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