23 September 2013

+JMJ+

Sliders: A Woman's World

Did you know that there has been at least one production of The Tempest in which Prospero was played as a woman's role? It wasn't just because a serious actress really wanted to play the lead. Since, as far as I know, Alonso wasn't also reimagined as female, his overthrowing of his older sister was also grist for an ideological mill.

While I love learning about the new ways in which William Shakespeare's plays have been interpreted by different directors, I can't say I'm a fan of this particular twist. Of course, I'd have to watch a production before making a definite statement on it--but generally speaking, I bet against gender-flipped characters. I just don't think the two sexes are interchangeable.

This episode of Sliders seems to disagree with me.

Pictured: President Clinton

How Hilary Rodham is known as "President Clinton" in a world where women run all the businesses, governments, churches and media, while the men stay home and take care of the children, isn't quite clear to me. Surely we're not supposed to think that all the famous leaders and great thinkers of our world have female doubles in this one, and that William Jefferson Clinton was born Wilma Jefferdaughter Clinton, while his famous namesake was born Tamsin Jefferdaughter. It may actually hit us harder to think that the world missed out on the gifts of unique individuals who just happened to be male, because of deep-seated, centuries-long prejudice against men. This was the point Virginia Woolf tried to make when she created the character of Judith Shakespeare, a woman with the same level of talent as her brother William but not the same level of success. Does this world have a Verginius Woolf who wrote about a Jude Shakespeare forever eclipsed by his sister Willa?

But it is asking too much of any TV series to tackle all these issues in a single episode. Sliders is doing the best it can with the limitations of its medium, so I will try to be fair. And I will start by taking the "President Clinton" joke as the pop culture gag it was intended to be and stop moaning that I can't find a pair of calipers big enough to let me measure this plot hole.

So how does our world look like with women in all the positions of political and economic power? Exactly the same. And implausible as that may be, it's the whole point. This episode is based on the assumption that there is no essential difference between men and women. So while we don't have the promised utopia of a warless world, neither do we have the guaranteed dystopia of "grass huts." In fact, Rome's grandest architectural achievement likely remains identical to the one we know, save for one teensy-weensy, itsy-bitsy spider of a difference . . .

Pictured: Pope Jane Pauley II

Never mind that giant pair of calipers. I'll need Bat's distance modulus calculator for this black hole that just got ripped in the plot. But yes, I do get what the writers mean by this, and I've already pointed out what that is. They are insisting that there are no essential differences between men and women, and that chauvinism is ugly no matter which sex is indulging in it.

And so the males in the main cast find that the only jobs they are qualified for involve baby-sitting or nude modeling . . . that there is little they can do when female bosses say things that make them uncomfortable . . . and that the majority of men accept their lot in life because they believe that testosterone makes men "cycle" every twenty minutes, causing them to be hormonally unfit for anything serious. Instead of commiserating, however, their woman friend turns into what I can only call a female chauvinist sow. This is the real weak link of the episode: if she cannot see the wrong in the disdainful, patronising matronising manner in which she starts to treat her own male friends, then she is the one who needs to be shocked by a world in which the majority of the leaders are men. Oh, wait . . .

This Sliders episode is meant to be an exercise in empathy, showing the male characters what it feels like to walk in a woman's shoes. But it is an oddly specific pair of shoes, fit for a professional, corporate environment. The men learn that it's tough to be a woman in the workplace, in politics and in a sexual relationship with someone you're not married to . . . but these are hardly the pinnacles of the feminine experience of life. I appreciate what the writers are trying to do here, but what they've written barely transcends the level of a sensitivity training role play game. 

Your Turn to Slide: What is one thing you wish the opposite sex knew about your own?

25 comments:

Sheila said...

One thing? ONE thing?!

I've been thinking about it for awhile, and I guess I'd choose for men to know what it's like to be leered at. Put him all alone, on a subway, with people bigger and stronger than him, and have them stare openly at his body. Then maybe this imaginary man would finally GET why that is so dang disturbing!

The whole "switch roles" thing has been a daydream of mine. Seraphic asked awhile back what we would do if we were magically turned into men. I had a whole story for myself, and one of the other girls said that if she could find a man like that, she'd marry him! I was like, "Well, I'd be a great husband, because I would be the one man who understood women!" LOL.

I'd enjoy that episode, but it does seem that they didn't go very deep into it. What would a world look like if it were run by women? Surely it would have SOME differences. At the very least there would be better maternity leave policies. ;) Because until you can switch who's getting pregnant, there will be some very noticeable differences.

I flatter myself it would be run much better. I've never met a woman with such absurdly out-of-touch politics as some men have. But perhaps this is my bias speaking.

Brandon said...

Is this the one where the Professor runs for Mayor or a different one? I remember liking the mayoral race but nothing else in that episode.

That's a question that makes me feel like I'm playing with dynamite, but it sometimes seems that if there is a harder or an easier way to get men to do things, women will inevitably choose the harder way. (I think a lot of the stereotypical complaints men have about women are really about this rather than what they seem to be; e.g., the old complaint about women always wanting to talk about relationships or feelings are really about it often being in the way that makes it very hard and awkward for most men to talk about them.) I don't know that there's any answer to it, and it's not really the sort of thing for which there is any excuse to complain about; but knowing that that's often how it feels might do some good.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Sheila -- If I didn't limit it to one thing we'd be here all day! ;-)

I think even men who have never been leered at would get what you mean if you brought up prison conditions. And I think they'd honestly be surprised to know a woman would consider that a good parallel for what she must deal with.

When I was younger, I really wanted to be a boy because all their stuff just seemed cooler. When I kept getting Barbie dolls for my birthday, while my male cousin got Transformers he was too small to play with, it was annoying. I also didn't like being talked out of the Taekwondo class I wanted to take because it was "for boys," and then being pushed into a ballet class "for girls" I had no interest in. =( Having grown up since then, however, I can't imagine what I'd do if I were magically transformed into a man. Wrestle something, perhaps? LOL! I'd like to feel the difference between my old strength and my new one.

As you guessed, this Sliders episode really consider children. We see a few fathers carrying babies around, but that's it. There's really no way a world like this would be possible if women still gave birth to the babies and produced the breast milk . . . but if there really has been a switch, I'd rather not know the physiological details! =P

Brandon -- This is indeed the episode in which Professor Arturo runs for mayor! =D I tend to like the professor's storylines more than anyone else's, and this was no exception. I found the unexpected effect of his trying to throw the election a little ridiculous . . . but when I recalled a certain US politician from our world crying during the primaries and getting really good PR from it, I can't dismiss this plot point as another cheap gag!

Your observation is one I've heard before but not heard a specific example of until now, so I haven't thought about it enough to reply to you here. But I'd like to hold it over a few relationship conflicts (in real life and in fiction) to see how it works as a template.

Sheila said...

I think the answer to Brandon is that what is easy for women is often hard for men, and vice versa. Everything my husband does, he seems to start hind end foremost, and when I explain something in the simplest, clearest way I know of, he never gets it. I have to break it down into paragraphs of robot-language (or that's how it feels to me) before he understands what I mean. I say something absolutely obtuse and confusing which doesn't really convey my meaning very well, and he says "Ohhhhh! Why didn't you say that in the first place?"

My husband understands the leering thing because gay guys are always hitting on him. Some men do have to have it explained to them, though, that even if you are a straight woman being ogled by a straight man, it is still NOT in any way a compliment.

E, I felt the same way growing up! My older brother got all the things I wanted -- Legoes, boy scouts, altar boy camp, hiking trips -- and I was always either too young or too female to get the same. In fairness, it was mostly because I was too young. But how come Girl Scouts is nothing remotely like Boy Scouts? Boy Scouts is a cool club with actual hiking and camping and outdoorsy stuff ... Girl Scouts seems mostly to consist in selling cookies and doing macrame. I have nothing against macrame, but I'm very outdoorsy and there isn't much for truly outdoorsy girls.

I did find, however, that if I kissed up to my brother enough, I got to play with his cool stuff and sometimes even play with all the fun friends he had over. All it took was periodically telling my brother he was a genius, laughing at all his jokes, listening to him quote entire movies, and doing all his fundraisers for him because he hates selling stuff. Training for womanhood, eh?

If I'd had a sister remotely near my own age (my only one is 20 years younger), I might feel differently.

Sheila said...

Oops, meant to share this link with you: http://www.themarysue.com/10-characters-whose-genders-were-swapped-in-production/?pid=62 You might find it interesting!

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Your story about your husband reminds me of the time I got hooted at while walking down the street. A guy just leaned out of his car window while driving by and made whooping sounds. Later that evening, I told a male friend, who happened to be gay, what had happened, and he just gave me the thumbs up sign for my "accomplishment" of the day. LOL! But another male friend, who wasn't gay, scoffed: "Don't be silly. He was just making fun of her." Ah, my uni days . . .

Thanks for the link! =) I had known about Ripley, but not about Luke Skywalker and Spock. I'm having trouble imagining Star Wars with a girl in Luke's role, if only because of the relationship dynamics that we get in the sequel. Would a love triangle, albeit a different one, have appeared even earlier if Han Solo had had a girl sidekick with him while rescuing Princess Leia? And this may be anathema to Star Trek fans now, but I think a totally dispassionate woman Vulcan as a foil to the eternally sanguine Captain Kirk would have been great! I'm sure there have been other uber-cerebral women characters since then, but the only one I can think of now is Temperance Brennan from the TV procedural Bones. And I've never been sold on her performance.

Now back to Ripley. If Alien were a play, a man could easily have understudied for Sigourney Weaver. But then, in Aliens, Ripley becomes a mother and men are locked out of the role forever. Although Weaver was nominated for an Oscar for Aliens, I don't think she was too happy about James Cameron's reimagining of the character. And I venture to guess right now that it's because Ripley's womanly qualities are as essential to the second movie as they are inconsequential to the first . . . and to the third and fourth, which Weaver co-produced, presumably so that she could get the last word in on Ripley.

r said...

I don't know, I think women basically understand men, at least when they think for themselves rather than going off some stereotype. Maybe that's what women should know about men, that their instincts are probably right.

Sheila said...

Cerebral women in sci-fi? I've always thought it must be a thing for some sci-fi fanboys, because it seems like there's always one! I'm thinking of Seven of Nine in Star Trek Voyager, and T'Pol (Vulcan First Officer, too!) in the fifth series, Enterprise. And Ivanova in Babylon 5. I guess Ivanova has feelings, but you'd never know it.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

R -- That may be true. Which means that a woman probably shouldn't dissect relationships with her supposedly savvier women friends. I think the petty sisters in the myth of Eros and Psyche and the faerie tale Beauty and the Beast illustrate the principle that a woman who is "in the dark" about a man still understands him better than others examining the situation from the outside.

Sheila -- Now you know how low my SF IQ is! ;-) I'm more familiar with police/forensic procedurals like Bones and Castle, which pair a man and a woman, then make the woman the more "rational" of the two.

love the girls said...

"What is one thing you wish the opposite sex knew about your own?"

I haven't a clue, I'm a guy.

As to the current topic at hand, so are you all telling me that most girls who get more than a quick passover don't want men to appreciate their effort?

Because it sure doesn't look that way given that most of the looking that does go on is of girls who go out of their way to stand out.

For instance, when a guy types in women's Olympic curling images, the images that catch the eye are pretty obviously the girls who what to be appreciated for their assets.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

I really don't know about most girls, LTG. Since I tend to look strange rather than sexy (and usually happen to be spaced out), I don't have that problem very often. In fact, the last time I felt disturbed by men gazing at me, I was fourteen years old. I was walking a little ahead of my family, when one of my uncles quickened his pace until he was next to me and draped his arm over my shoulders. I didn't know what was going on until we had reached the parking lot and my mother said that she had asked him to do that because she didn't like the way some older men had been looking at me. I hadn't even noticed them, but seeing the scenario through my mother's eyes made it feel seedier. I would venture to say that her own reaction to being stared at is closer to Sheila's.

amy said...

While I do believe in the fundamental differences between men and women... I also believe in the unity of human nature- a matriarchal society isn't really so likely to be so very different from a patriarchal.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

That's a good way to put it, Amy.

I've seen enough evidence in our own world that women can be just as chauvinistic as men, and just as likely to let power go to their heads. But I also think that a matriarchal society wouldn't just be a patriarchal society with women in charge. It would be a wee bit more communist . . . even Borg-ish! Admittedly, however, the communist societies of recent history were all instituted by men.

Belfry Bat said...

... it was a claim I heard, though I don't know how to verify it ... is there an anthropologist in the room? ... that Matriarchies-as-such only tend to arise where paternity is typically obscure. Why can't we have pararchy? [Saying "as-such" is meant to exclude the cases of a Matriarch holding sway over a traditionally-patriarchal society, as was the cases of the Queen Mary (Tudor), the Queens Elizabeth, and Queen Victoria. I don't think I should include Queen Anne... well, anyways.]

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

I'll take that theory as a working hypothesis and run with it, thanks. I think any place where single motherhood is normalised (Oooh! Singl3 Moth3r Culture!) is already partly a matriarchy.

love the girls said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Belfry Bat said...

What happn to mi english there?

Oh, oh dear ...

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

I always love it when I get to read LTG's comments before he deletes them. <3

Bat -- U can haz cheeseburger now!

love the girls said...

Miss E,

Unlike many bloggers who think their every written word as sacred as a Ray Bradbury Sound of Thunder butterfly, I consider most of what I write to be eminently deleteable. And would typically delete it all out of a blog except that it tends to mess up the conversations if someone wants to read some old blog post. Nevertheless, some posts are more deserving of aether death than others.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Apparently, the key is to reply to you as soon as possible, in such a way as to make your comment an essential part of a lively thread . . .

Sheila said...

So it's true! If I don't rise to the bait, it really DOES go away! I am so proud of myself for not answering it.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

LOL! I don't see it as bait any longer, which is why I probably enjoy it more than you do. =)

love the girls said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
love the girls said...

I deleted the post because, even while perfectly true and rather obvious, I thought the comment too controversial and likely to be contentious.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

LTG, I published both versions of your comment because I wasn't sure which one you preferred. Feel free to let both of them stay! =)