Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Book Thoughts: Blank Page Heroines

A few blogs have been bringing up characterization of women in literature this week. I figured I'd add some of my own thoughts!

Title of this post comes from Sarah Rees Brennan. The Blank Page Heroine is the type of woman that seems "to be there as a match for the hero who won't bother him with things like 'hobbies' and 'opinions.' Sometimes she is carefully featureless (still missing those pesky hobbies and opinions) so that, apparently, the reader can identify with her and slot their own personalities onto a blank page."

Justine Larbalestier followed up with a post of her own, saying she's always thought of this sort of character as The Girlfriend (which is equally accurate, since that's what these characters exist to be - until they become The Wife). Justine says she always imagined this type of woman was a straight male fantasy - but the Blank Page Heroine appears in books written by women as well (in the comments is the obligatory Twilight bashing, which certainly seems appropriate).

And even before I saw the Twilight comment in Justine's post, I was already reminded of a post from Pandagon earlier this week, about The Pornography of Non-Rejection, posing that Twilight fills a sort of pornographic role for women:
"I didn’t really realize how true it was that romance novels are porn for women. And it’s not necessarily the fantasy of sex that they have in common with the videos aimed at men we think of as “porn”. It’s a different fantasy altogether: the fantasy of being completely desired, with no objections and no real obstacles.

"Think about the male-oriented porn’s single most common fantasy, one that exists in the ugliest, most misogynist gonzo porn to the more playful videos marketed as safe for “couples”. For male viewers, porn is all about a world where women are always up for it, with you (or the actor standing in as your cipher), and you’re facing a cornucopia of women who always, without fail, say yes...“Twilight” speaks to that basic fantasy of being so enticing that rejection is impossible."

I think the Blank Page Heroine plays into this notion of being desired without obstacles - because she has no interests to conflict with the interests of The Man, of course he is going to be totally receptive to her advances. The sad part of this is that we're slowly teaching women and girls that supplanting your own personality and desires is the only way to get a hunky awesome guy to totally want you. Just as pornography can create unrealistic standards for sexual relationships for male viewers, so does this "pornography of non-rejection" create unrealistic standards for female readers.

And I don't think this is me just projecting some hypothetical terrifying future filled with uninteresting, hobby-less women: A footnote to the Pandagon article mentions the phenomenon of female Jane Austen fans justifying "their fandom on the basis of having crushes on male characters," rather than on a love of the well-written and witty text of the stories. "Is hiding behind a crush on Mr. Darcy a way to defang Austen, to make being interested in her less threatening to men in your life? You my scoff, but you’d be surprised how many men are uneasy around women who are better-read than they are." The relationship with the literature becomes all about the man, completely cutting out the fabulous woman behind the writing, mirroring the Blank Page Heroine who is interested only in the man of the story rather than herself and any other people(women) around her.


Tia said...

Thanks for such a thoughtful post on this topic! I've been struggling to articulate why Twilight is appealing to women yet undeniably problematic in its portrayal of a "romantic" relationship, and you brought up a compelling part of that issue I hadn't thought of.

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