Portrayal of Women in 'Once Upon a Time...'

Feminist ideology and the effect it has had upon society
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Portrayal of Women in 'Once Upon a Time...'

Postby Jonathan » 05 Jan 2014, 14:49

There's a relatively new series called 'Once Upon a Time' (3 seasons) and it has spawned a spinoff, 'Once Upon a Time in Wonderland'. The concept is a novel one, I believe, and the execution is quite good in the first season, though the quality deteriorates afterwards.

Numerically speaking, the female protagonists slightly outnumber the male ones, but the more interesting point is that they are their full equals when it comes to physical combat. There is a short youtube video showing precisely what I mean, and it's worth watching all 3 minutes of it, keeping in mind that this is the very first episode of the spinoff series:

Alice's Escape:

The female protagonist overwhelms four psychiatric ward guards without missing a beat. She rescues her male sidekick, who just stands back and waits for her to finish.

So what's going on here? It's not just that that Alice isn't displaying classic Female characteristics. Something more is going on. Alice is not displaying any Male virtues either.

The Male virtues which are conspicuously absent can best be seen by considering an older escape scene involving a woman - Sarah Conner in Terminator 2. Sarah Connor may be a woman, but she displays many male virtues. We see her exercising to strengthen her body. We see her stealing a paper clip and picking the lock on her handcuff. In previous scenes we see her training with weapons. These are classic male virtues proudly on display - the self-discipline of physical training; physical toughness producing mental toughness; determination, planning, and resourcefulness.

But Alice shows none of these. No preparatory scenes are necessary to explain her escape. She just dances through her opponents. She overcomes them by virtue of being her.

This scene is not so much a reflection of femininity, or of women succeeding just like men. It's a reflection of the idea of feminism itself; the woman succeeds because if she failed, the scene would be sexist (do you think a woman can't do it but a man can?) She needs no help because if she did, the scene would be sexist (do you think a woman can't manage without a man?) We wish for equality of outcomes, therefore, we have equality of outcomes.

Similar traits can be seen with other female characters, though it's less blatant. The next best example is Snow White, who turns from a pampered princess to a feared outlaw with no character-building scenes to show the transition, as if shooting a bow and foraging in the woods require nothing more than putting on a new costume.
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Re: Portrayal of Women in 'Once Upon a Time...'

Postby Gavin » 05 Jan 2014, 15:06

Interesting observations. You see the same sort of thing in that ridiculous Hunger Games that teenagers like to watch, and indeed in so many other creations (like the Underworld series of films - and pretty much anything with women in it now). Usually the only sort of women who have such male traits are overtly masculine (thus less attractive) women - and even these would still be beaten in combat by the vast majority of men. Women such as these usually do not go into the thespian arts and are not chosen to star in such films. Thus, a fantasy is constructed as you suggest, one which is telling women to be something that most thankfully are not, cannot really be and which society does not need them to be.
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Re: Portrayal of Women in 'Once Upon a Time...'

Postby Yessica » 05 Jan 2014, 17:54

I think that this is more a male fantasy, then a female one, though.

I never heard a woman say "I wish I was like Katniss Everdeen" or "I wish I was in her shoes". I watched the hunger games alongside with some female friends. None of us was impressed by her.
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Re: Portrayal of Women in 'Once Upon a Time...'

Postby Elliott » 06 Jan 2014, 06:49

That's interesting, Yessica, as it points to a conflict or ambiguity as to why these things are shown in media. Is it because teenaged boys like seeing "action girls", or because scriptwriters are pushing a feminist agenda, or because feminists would scream and complain if anything else was done? Does anyone actually believe this kind of stuff is realistic or is everyone playing along? Is anyone meant to be tricked into believing it, or is it just a "going through the motions" formality?
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Re: Portrayal of Women in 'Once Upon a Time...'

Postby Caleb » 07 Jan 2014, 04:26

When I was a teenager, I did judo. There was a woman at my club exactly five years old than me (we shared a birthday). She was a black belt and extremely fit, not to mention strong for a woman (she could bench press more than her own body weight, which is good for a man, but exceptional for a woman). She went on to compete for Australia in the Olympics several times, and also represented Australia in netball. She also did triathlons. Whenever practising with her, she would complain that we were going too easy on her. When we inevitably stopped holding back, she would then complain that we were too rough on her (she had a massive ego and whined non-stop). At the end of every year, our club would have a competition. There was an open division in which anyone, regardless of sex or normal weight division, could compete. That woman was always defeated by every single male in the club except the novice members. She was, to all intents and purposes in the top 1%, and probably top 0.001%, of female athletes and martial artists in the country, yet pretty much any man could defeat her, if only by virtue of being 20-30kg heavier than her. TV and the movies are a load of nonsense. No one actually believes women could ever really be action heroes.
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Re: Portrayal of Women in 'Once Upon a Time...'

Postby Jonathan » 08 Jan 2014, 22:24

Considering that the series contains talking rabbits, I'm not sure 'realistic' as suitable term. Rather, I would say that the suspension of disbelief necessary to enjoy a fantasy story is being forcibly extended to cover feminist ideology. The writers confront each viewer with an unpleasant choice - extend the suspension, or face an implied accusation of sexism. What most people do in practice (including myself, to an extent) is pretend to believe it and then pretend to enjoy the scene, despite being forced into that pretense.
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