I’ve been stewing in the waters of sexism and gender internet discussions recently. Pretty much any female game journalist I follow on Twitter has dedicated most of her opinion pieces towards sexism rants, delving into superficial, Anita Saarkesian-esque, subjective phantom-jumping. Not only is it disgustingly, predictably unoriginal (talk about group-think), it’s also, usually, disappointingly shallow. The above-linked videos do a better job than I could in this blog of explaining why this whole recent zeitgeist of sexism baiting is preposterous, so I recommend checking them out.
But as someone who hopes to have a daughter one day, I do worry that the pink and purple girls’ toys aisle at Walmart and the In Touches and Cosmos of the world might brainwash my future offspring into becoming the same vapid, materialistic, intellectually stunted women that I encounter far too often in life. How does one counter that? The feminists would say, give them respectable role models. Of course, they usually have no idea what that means. Some feminists think that means making women into action heroes. That completely ignores biology and, as always, only superficially addresses the problem. Women don’t (or shouldn’t) want to replace men. Other feminists seek not to empower women in new ways, but rather diminish all masculine mentality so that female mindsets (as scattered as they are) rule the world. This is just destroying what you view as “the other” in place of actually being creative.
Clearly feminism has no idea what a solid female role model should be. Feminists also can’t seem to wrap their head around the idea of a woman that is assertive and decisive in her professional life while also acting traditionally feminine in her private life. No I’m not talking about having her do the laundry and the dishes; I mean feminine in bed and while interacting with her male partner. For feminists, it’s either all or nothing. You are a ball-buster or you are a sexual and professional slave to the “patriarchy”.
Now, the obvious character from fiction that I could bring up here would be Dagny Taggart, the central character of Atlas Shrugged. She runs a national railroad company, is fiercely decisive and competent in the face staggeringly short-sighted men (and women), but also enjoys all manner of sexual experiences, including being submissive to her masculine partners in bed. She, of course, never submits intellectually, but only in ways that make her feel good and remind her of her unique female-ness.
But that’s the answer you would expect from me, an Objectivist, thus it’s boring and predictable, much like the feminists I’ve been bashing. Plus, there’s always the argument than Rand’s heroes are superhuman, and thus, not a realistic role model. I disagree with that sentiment but for all those reasons, let’s move on to my true example of a great female role model: Leela from the TV cartoon Futurama.
I was watching a few episodes recently and realized something quite amazing. Leela has her own storylines, her own foibles, her own character arcs, and is certainly not the indestructable Randian hero that Dagny is seen to be. But here and there, little hints surface that Leela is an amazing human being (mutant…whatever). In one episode, Fry and the Professor are thrown forward in time, leaving the rest of the cast to assume that they died. Over the course of the episode Leela is shown growing older and, more importantly, she takes over Planet Express and transforms it from ever-failing small business to mega-corporate empire. It’s treated as a joke (a jab at how professionally inept the Professor had been) but it’s also a huge statement about Leela’s intellect and capabilities.
In another episode, society has to decide, by way of a cheap gizmo, who gets passage (based on “usefulness to society”) on an escape-ship before the Earth is destroyed. Fry lucks into it, much to his delight, and so when Leela steps up to be judged, it’s seen as a given that she will be accepted as well. Indeed, the gizmo explicitly lists off her qualities, “Top gun pilot, natural leader, extreme combat training…” Again, this is eventually played for a joke and to throw a wrench in the plot when she’s actually rejected for the escape-ship, but it’s yet another example of how her outstanding abilities are accepted as a given.
Finally, there’s her relationship with Fry. Of course, these two are always destined to be together because that’s how TV shows work. And yes, that kind of plot works better when they string out the “will they, won’t they” plot as long as possible. But unlike in most other cases, it’s not fate, or lying, or miscommunication, or jealousy that keeps these two apart, as literally every romantic comedy movie plays out. No, the only thing keeping Fry from finally scoring the woman of his dreams is…the woman of his dreams. Leela won’t agree to date Fry because he’s just not mature enough for her. She likes him, and on some level, one gets the sense that she’s rooting for him in his quest to win her heart, but she will not compromise herself and settle for someone she thinks in unworthy. Of course, over time, she gradually gives him a shot and dumb as he is, Fry starts to grow up. After a bit of unexpected wisdom from Fry about being happy in life, Leela starts to see that he may be worthy of her after all. “I guess Zap isn’t the only one who’s marriage material!” Fry exclaims. Leela responds with a kiss on the cheek and, “You’re getting there.”
Yes, Leela has a lot of the “action hero” traits like knowing martial arts and acting as pilot/captain of the ship. But those traits aren’t played as “Look! A woman is doing man things!” It’s simply understood that as the competent person on staff, those are the positions and responsibilities she has earned. The reason feminist role models usually fail is that they are always viewed through the prism of opposing masculinity or comparing oneself to men. A feminist role model has a chip on her shoulder, always acting with the underlying thought of, “Anything you can do, I can do better.” What the feminists don’t understand is that that mentality is an inferiority complex. It makes women weak. If your main reason for achievement and effort is to show that you are just as good, or better, than any man, you are always defining yourself in relation to others. To put it in Objectivist terms, you are a second-hander.
Leela never brags that she’s better than all the men at Planet Express. In fact, as the unofficial leader of the company, she has a vested interest in lifting her otherwise lazy and stupid crew members up to her level. She’s not pro-feminine, anti-masculine, or any combination thereof. She fully accepts her interpersonal role as a woman (she likes being seduced by men, for example), but in her professional life, she’s gender neutral; it doesn’t matter in the slightest that she is female.
I haven’t run through all the episodes with this new outlook on Leela in mind, and I’m sure episodes here and there might see her falter in her hyper-competence, but overall, I can’t think of a better character for my hypothetical future daughter to emulate.