Before you read this column, let me take a moment and state one of my non-negotiable opinions, because everything else you’re about to read is based on it:
I have been of this opinion since I was five years old. I figured it out the day that a couple of little playground terrorists decided that I was in their way somehow; I honestly can’t recall whether they wanted my place on the swing set, my bouncy ball, or the three square feet of asphalt I might have had to skip a rope. Point is, they presented me with their demands, and told me that if I did not comply by the time they counted as high they could—which wouldn’t take long—I’d receive some kind of pummeling.
Primal creature that I am, I responded with the five-year-old version of the same thing I’d probably say 31 years later: “Oh yeah? You and what army, pal?”
That was the Wrong Answer, apparently. For the very first time in my life, I saw the stupid, mystified blink that an American male will give you when you knee his sense of entitlement in the balls. And then the Terrorist Leader, all of age 5, informed me that there was no way I could POSSIBLY defend myself from head noogies or having my panties pulled down, so I might as well give up now.
I’m sure I wore a miniature version of the same “Are you differently abled?” look that many a man has seen on my face since that day. “Oh yeah? Why not?”
“Because you’re a GIRL.” Five years old, but I swear to God, he was dripping 10,000 years of condescension. “Girls don’t FIGHT.”
Bam. Epiphany. Shaft of light. Crack of thunder. All at once, a sweeping vista of my future laid out before me–a lifetime during which I would be served crap sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, and be expected to meekly eat them without complaint…because I was a girl.
At that very moment, I made a decision. “If that’s what it means to be a girl,” I thought, “then screw BEING A GIRL.”
I turned to the Terrorists and said, “Guess you’ve never met a girl like me.” And then I waded in like the Tasmanian Devil. Much yelling, scratching, and at least two nosebleeds followed, but that really doesn’t matter. The point is, I have never wavered from the path I chose that day, and I learned a lesson which has stuck with me ever since:
Never let a man with an agenda tell you what it means to be a woman!
As I grew up, of course, I found that women and girls were just as untrustworthy as men are, when it comes to peddling sexist bullshit. As the years went by, I realized that my whole society was so saturated with this garbage that there was, in fact, actually more BS than truth in any statement made about girls and women—or boys and men, for that matter. Trying to distinguish between a meaningful statement and BS is a real chore, in North America, and in many ways things are no better today than they were when I was five. But after years of anthropology training, quite a number of hard knocks, and more hours of passionate argument than I could ever possibly count, I came up with a simple rule of thumb to help separate the two.
The rule is: turn-about is fair play.
Not only that, but really? Turn-about is the ONLY kind of fair play that there is.
It works like this. Take just about ANY statement that someone makes about the character or behavior of a woman or a girl…and turn it around. If you cannot relate the same words or ideas equally well to a man or a boy, that statement is one of two things: 1) either an outright piece of sexist twaddle which isn’t true at all, except to the extent that sexist morons believe it or 2) something that is true, to a limited extent, but only because our society is riddled with the aforementioned morons and their twaddle to a boggling degree.
Now personally? I enjoy performing the turn-about exercise on the clichés of the horror genre. There’s nothing in the world that will reveal sexist BS faster than reversing the genders of the people involved, so try it yourself some time:
Would it be ridiculous for an old nun and a young nun to face down a demon who had taken possession of a small boy?
If a femme vampire commanded her helpless male victim to leave the side of his sleeping fiancée at night, and come to her crypt instead–would that scene have the same disturbing dark eroticism of Dracula’s call to Mina Harker?
Ok…what if a mysterious faceless woman with a weapon stalked through the halls of a frat house, murdering the scantily-clad college boys who for some reason are all hanging out together taking unnecessary showers and whacking each other with pillows while wearing nothing but their briefs or pyjama bottoms?
Ok, what if there was a huge scary masked woman stalking a group of teenagers in the woods, and the only survivor at the end of the movie was a clean-cut Straight Edge boy who wouldn’t drink, smoke, or have sex with his girlfriend before marriage but somehow defeated the evil villainness by virtue of his resourcefulness and pluck? Tell me–do you think if the Final Boy was being chased through the woods by Julie Voorhees, Michelle Myers or Frederica Krueger, that he’d fall and twist his ankle?
I’m sure I’ve gone far enough to make my point. And I’m equally sure that all of you out there can perform this same exercise yourself. There must be countless images and tropes in horror which have struck you with special force over the years. Try flipping things from XX to XY once in a while, and see what happens! Sometimes the results are hilarious–sometimes they’re going to turn you into the Tasmanian Devil.
But hey, what’s a few nosebleeds between friends?
This piece was first published as a column for Pretty-Scary.net.